Battle on for Jays pitchers

Blue Jays pitcher Kyle Drabek throws against the Mariners in Toronto, Ontario on September 22,...

Blue Jays pitcher Kyle Drabek throws against the Mariners in Toronto, Ontario on September 22, 2010. (FRED THORNHILL/Reuters)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:42 PM ET

DUNEDIN — A day ahead of the first official workouts of spring most of the 35 pitches and a half-dozen catchers have checked into the Blue Jays clubhouse and the guy with the biggest smile is pitching coach Bruce Walton.

“This is exciting,” said Walton. “We have three young, established guys coming back at the top of the rotation. We have some really great young arms ready to compete for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation.

“Now, in the last month, we’ve established a lot of weapons in our bullpen. We now have five guys with closing experience. Our bullpen just got really good, really fast.”

For the first five days of camp, pitchers dand catchers will work out as a unit and will be joined by the position players — most of whom are already here and working out but not scheduled to report until Friday.

With Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil pencilled into the first three spots of the rotation, there is an open competition among a half-dozen others for the fourth and fifth rotation spots.

Top candidates are Kyle Drabek, Jesse Litsch, Marc Rzepczynski, Scott Richmond and Zach Stewart. Other secondary candidates are Brad Mills, Robert Ray and Jo-Jo Reyes, who came over from Atlanta in the Yunel Escobar deal.

During the last month or so, Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has added Frank Francisco, John Rauch and Octavio Dotel, all of whom have worked late-inning relief for various teams in the big leagues. They join Jason Frasor and Shawn Camp as incumbents to form the backbone of what should be a strong bullpen.

“If everything works the way we expect, then there are five spots that are already solid and those last two spots will be a heated competition,” said Walton. “That’s a good thing for the organization and a real battle for the pitchers.”

That puts candidates like Casey Janssen, David Purcey, Jesse Carlson, Josh Roenicke and Carlos Villanueva under some pressure during this camp.

“You’re usually looking at 14 relievers who you’ll need to get through the season, when you consider health and performance issues,” said Walton. “We like our depth. It’s funny how things work, too. Sometimes a guy won’t make the club out of spring training but in two weeks, he’s back up and stays the whole year.”

As the centrepiece in the Roy Halladay trade last year, one of the open starting roles is probably Drabek’s to lose. He has accomplished everything he needs to accomplish at the double-A level, including a no-hitter last July, and acquitted himself adequately in three September starts for the Jays.

“When you look at the pedigree, the physical ability, the success he’s had at the minor-league level, he is a guy you get excited about,” said manager John Farrell. “We have to have the ability to transition players to the major leagues. All the ingredients are there for him to be a very good major-league pitcher. We’re looking forward to seeing it get under way.”

Litsch appears to be fully healthy for the first time in a couple of years and is determined to rejoin the rotation. If he makes the cut, he would be Toronto’s second-most experienced rotation member with 59 starts under his belt, two behind Romero.

“Jesse is closer now to where he once was than he’s ever been,” said Walton. “He came back last year post-surgery and the arm dragged a little bit. He had some difficulty finding his consistency. I’ve already seen more arm speed from him in a couple of sessions this spring than I saw last year.”

No matter which two pitchers get the nod to be numbers four and five, it appears as if Brandon Morrow, at the ripe old age of 26, will be the elder statesman of the starting rotation.

“We will have some youth and talent in that rotation that we can protect with some veteran guys in the bullpen,” said Farrell. “That can be a confidence builder, not only for the starters but for the whole team.”

So that is the perfect state of grace that exists on the day before the first day of training camp. We are reminded of the famous John Lennon quote “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”

I mean, really ... what could go wrong?


Videos

Photos