Jays pumped for playoff expansion

How successfully Colby Rasmus is at bouncing back after his struggles of last season will dictate...

How successfully Colby Rasmus is at bouncing back after his struggles of last season will dictate where he bats in the Blue Jays lineup. (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:19 PM ET

Within the next few days, its expected that MLB and the MLBPA will announce that a second playoff wild-card team will be instituted for this coming season.

The tentative schedule has the two wild-card teams in a one-game play-in on the day after the end of the regular schedule for the right to play the No. 1 seeded division winner in the best-of-five Division Series.

I think its great for baseball and I hope it comes into play this year, said Blue Jays manager John Farrell. Any time you increase opportunity and potential late in the season, its going to keep the divisional and league races going deeper into the month of September. Hopefully were in the mix to win one of those five spots.

Terry Francona was standing in the middle of the Blue Jays clubhouse just past 8 a.m. Thursday, when John Farrell came through the door.

At first Farrell didnt see his friend and former boss with the Red Sox. Then Francona pointed at his watch and called out across the room: Hey, dont keep the media waiting.

Deposed as Boston manager after last Septembers colossal collapse, Francona is now an ESPN baseball analyst and looking like the weight of the free world has been lifted from his shoulders. Hes making the tour of baseball camps but wont be making it to the Red Sox camp in Fort Myers.

That would be just too weird, he said. Ive got them on opening night and thats going to be enough of a circus.

Once Thursdays workouts started, Farrell had a few moments to chat with his old pitching coach.

Its always good to see him, good to catch up, Farrell said. He seems to be enjoying what hes doing. Most importantly, its nice to see him around the game, involved. Hes always had a great outlook.

Francona explained that while he left the Red Sox kicking and screaming, the more time hes out of the pressure-cooker, the more he realizes how good its been for him to step away.

When youre in the middle of it, youre not able to see what its doing to you, he said.

Farrell said Franconas people skills have shaped his own approach to managing the Blue Jays.

Seeing the way he dealt with 25 individuals and all the situations that arose in that city, in that ball park, in that media swirl, hes very adept at handling the many different challenges that were thrown his way, Farrell said.

How successfully Colby Rasmus is at bouncing back after his struggles of last season will dictate where he bats in the Blue Jays lineup.

When hes at his best, hes a guy who has hit in that 5-6-7 slot, said manager John Farrell. Were fortunate that we have a lot of flexibility with our lineup. We have the ability to stack some left-handers against certain right-handers, he could find himself in the middle of the order somewhere if hes in one of those hot trends.

I dont want to pigeon-hole him into one spot. We have a good complement of left-right throughout the lineup. Hes a guy with the ability to be aggressive on the basepaths and he can hit the ball out of the ball park.

But I think more importantly is his mindset coming in here, being comfortable and that setting the stage for his ability to play out more consistently.

Omar Vizquel has received no promises from the Blue Jays, but the more you see of him around camp and the more you listen to the team brass talk about him, if he can play at all, hell win the job as utility infielder.

We have to see him work within the speed of the game, said manager John Farrell of Vizquel, 44.

In his prime, I dont know if there was an infielder with a more accurate internal clock, able to judge the speed of the runner and the pace of that ground ball, getting the right hop, making the throw. I dont think those instincts have gone away.

The intangible benefits of having one of the premier Latin stars of the past two decades in the clubhouse are significant.

Theres a lot of value in that, Farrell said. Look at the last three places hes been: Texas, with (Elvis) Andrus, Chicago with (Alexei) Ramirez, now here with (Yunel) Escobar. There is a reason for that. Were hoping for him to impart those same intangibles and knowledge.

Ever since Marc Rzepczynski went to St. Louis in the Colby Rasmus deal at the trade deadline last year, the Jays have lacked that situational left-hander that is so important in the American League East.

It was on the priority list of things to do, particularly with the lineups in our division, John Farrell said.

That priority was filled when they signed 41-year-old Darren Oliver, who has been money in that role for the last six years of his long career.

We need him to matchup against (Robinson) Cano and (Adrian) Gonzalez, and to turn (Ben) Zobrist around. A left-hander that late in the game, with the success hes had ... I know when we signed him I felt we got better immediately.

Farrell also has his eye on lefty Evan Crawford as lefty depth in the organization. Crawford, an eighth-round draft in 2008, pitched at New Hampshire last year.

Hes left-hander who has got good stuff, a left-hander with average velocity and an above-average breaking ball, said Farrell. In our division, those guys are going to be needed. Thats not to overlook Luis Perez by any means, but we need multiple lefties in our pen.

BLUE JAYS MOUND ASSIGNMENTS

Friday Noon Intrasquad game (6 innings)

Team Blue: Ricky Romero, Jason Frasor, Rick VandenHurk, Robert Coello, Chad Jenkins

Team Gray: Brandon Morrow, Nelson Figueroa, Drew Hutchison, Evan Crawford, Deck McGuire

Saturday v Pirates: Brett Cecil, Kyle Drabek, Jerry Gil, Jim Hoey, Danny Farquhar, Luis Perez, Ryan Tepera, Joel Carreno, Scott Richmond

Sunday at Pittsburgh (Bradenton): Henderson Alvarez, Aaron Laffey, Chad Beck, Jesse Chavez, Francisco Cordero, Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos, Darren Oliver

Monday at Detroit (Lakeland): Drew Hutchison, Robert Coello, Evan Crawford, Nelson Figueroa, Jason Frasor, Jerry Gil, Jim Hoey, Drew Carpenter


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