Notebook: Blue Jays plan to take things slow with Marco Estrada this spring

Blue Jays right-hander Marco Estrada pitches a bullpen session in Dunedin, Fla. (Nathan Denette/CP)

DUNEDIN, Fla. – The Toronto Blue Jays plan on taking things a bit slower with Marco Estrada this spring as the right-hander works through some minor stiffness in his back and returns from a career high in innings pitched last season.

Manager John Gibbons said Tuesday that after the right-hander logged 200.1 frames during the regular season and playoffs, the team planned to pace out his progression regardless.

Estrada missed time last spring with a twisted ankle and started the season in the bullpen, prompting Gibbons to note that “it wasn’t like he had a hell of a lot of work to begin with last year anyway. Some guys don’t need as much.”

“We’re going to ease him in slowly, his back’s been a little stiff,” said Gibbons. “But the plan coming down anyway, because he threw so many innings and through the playoffs, he was one guy we were going to back off a little bit.”

THOLE TO HANDLE DICKEY: The Blue Jays plan to give minor-league free agents Tony Sanchez and Humberto Quintero some exposure to R.A. Dickey, but Josh Thole will catch the majority of the knuckleballer’s innings this spring.

That suggests Thole is right now positioned to be Russell Martin’s backup.

“They’ll all get a little taste of it, but primarily Josh will get the most of it,” said John Gibbons. “But I think it’s good that they all experience it, who knows how it all shakes out. It’s not an easy thing to do, because it does take a lot of work and a lot of time, we don’t necessarily have a lot of time, but they all need to experience it a little bit.”

Martin caught 20 of Dickey’s 33 starts last season, but the Blue Jays want to drastically reduce that number this year.

“That will definitely help him,” said Gibbons. “I really think he did a good job, especially first year doing it, but it took its toll on him. He’s such a key part of this team, and he’s going to be here for a few years, he’s a priority guy, we need to take care of him. When he needs a day off, that might be the perfect day.”

MINOR-LEAGUE APPOINTMENTS: Donnie Murphy, Juan Rincon and Corey Hart are new additions to the Blue Jays player development system as the club announced its minor-league field staffs for 2016.

Murphy, the former infielder who played 335 games for five big-league clubs, begins his coaching career as the hitting coach at low-A Lansing.

Rincon, a lefty who pitched in 10 big-league seasons for four clubs, starts his coaching career as the pitching coach for the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays.

Hart, not to be confused with the outfielder who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season, will serve as hitting coach at single-A Dunedin after six seasons in the Miami Marlins system, the past four as hitting coach for single-A Jupiter.

John Tamargo Jr., takes over as manager at short-season-A Vancouver and will share the hitting co-ordinator duties with Kenny Graham. Tamargo will handle the upper levels, Graham the lower levels in the system.

John Schneider, who managed the Canadians last year, moves up to manage low-A Lansing. Cesar Martin is manager of the GCL Blue Jays, while Jose Mateo will skip the Dominican Summer League squad.

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