DUNEDIN, FLA. - A year ago, in his rookie season as Blue Jay manager, John Farrell’s hands were tied by a predominantly righthanded batting lineup. This year, he has a great deal more freedom to mix and match.
Essentially, the Jays had seven, and sometimes eight, righthanded batters at times last year, but the additions of Kelly Johnson and Colby Rasmus, plus the emergence of Travis Snider and Eric Thames, have added balance to the mix.
Farrell is hoping to be able to have more room for adjustments and matchups against specific pitchers. In his vision, Yunel Escobar will lead off, followed by Kelly Johnson, then Jose Bautista and Adam Lind, giving his a right-left-right-left top four. After that, he will have options.
“We’re going to look at (Edwin) Encarnacion, Rasmus, (Brett) Lawrie,” said Farrell of his 5-6-7 hitters, leaving J.P. Arencibia and whoever is in left field as a right-left bottom of the order.
“Those guys are going to come into the mix. When we get into that part of the lineup is where we’ll be looking for combinations and matchups. We might stack a couple of righties, stack a couple of lefties. Going into opening day this year, we have more flexibility and versatility to do that.”
JOHNSON SEALS THE DEAL
Kelly Johnson wasn’t much relishing dipping his toe in the waters of free agency this winter, but he’s more than pleased with the outcome.
“It’s exciting, but it’s also stressful,” said Johnson of free agency. “I’m the kind of guy who likes to have all the details ironed out ahead of time. It was a different experience.”
As it turned out, the Jays offer of arbitration turned out to be the best option for Johnson. He eventually settled for a one-year deal worth $6.250 million without a hearing.
“I knew it was a great option,” said Johnson, “because it’s not often that a team that is going to be as good as this one is going to be wants you back and wants you to be a part of it. I was very humbled by that and it felt good to be wanted back.
“You still owe it to yourself to see what’s out there, but it was far and away the best option.”
Johnson had a poor offensive year in 2011, with a .222 batting average and a .304 on-base percentage. He did hit 21 home runs, but felt that, in general, the game just came at him too fast and he couldn’t slow it down.
“Sometimes this game just gets you and 85 mph looks like 105 and it seems like you’re never ready when the ball is hit at you,” he explained. “There is always something that can humble you.
“We’re all going to have struggles and ups and downs, but for where I was in my career, the game shouldn’t feel like it’s happening so fast for that long a period. I just have to put it behind me and learn from it.”
GOSE’S FINAL CHALLENGE
Anthony Gose knows where he stands, knows what he has to do. Now it’s a matter of doing it.
Already in possession of major-league defensive skills, including a strong arm and whippet speed, Gose’s improvement must come on offence.
He has already made significant strides since he came over from Philadelphia, via Houston in a trade for Brett Wallace at the 2010 trade deadline, but he still has more to come.
“The more consistent I can be, getting on base — limiting the strikeouts and drawing more walks — just any way I can get on base to score runs and help the team win, is going to be the key,” he said Thursday.
“I concentrated a bit more on trying to drive the ball this past season. At times, I got a little out of control with it and had to reel myself back in, calm myself down. I have to maintain a consistent swing.”
If he is able to do that, the thinking is that he will still be able to drive the ball and develop more power. But for now, the key is to be an on-base machine, wherever he plays this year, New Hampshire or Las Vegas.