DUNEDIN, FLA. - The Blue Jays are banking on Kelly Johnson’s return to the kind of offensive numbers he produced in Arizona two years ago. They’re confident enough in that premise that they’ve planted Johnson in the No. 2 spot in the batting order.
“There’s something you have to be aware of in every role but in the two-hole, you’re counted on to put up some quality at-bats, see some pitches,” said Johnson, who had a .370 OBP in 2010 but slipped 66 points last year. “You might have Rajai (Davis) leading off and if the gameplan calls for some stolen bases, you have to be giving him that chance.
“You also want to be able to give your 3-4-5 hitters a chance to do what they’re good at, which is drive in runs.”
Manager John Farrell and Johnson have spent some one-on-one time discussing the expectations.
“The way we construct a lineup, on-base percentage is the No. 1 criteria,” Farrell said. “Kelly has that in his past. When we met as we have with every player, one on one, here, he felt like the year in Arizona where he hit 26 home runs he started to sacrifice some of that approach for more power.
“I think after last year where the average settled in on the low end for his career, he’s back to the focus of what he did well in the past.
“That’s not to say he can’t hit the ball out of the ball park but I think what he has done is prioritize a more consistent approach rather than sacrifice average or on base for a little more power.”
That all fits with Johnson’s outlook.
“If I’m going well,” he said, “That’s a strength for me: Seeing pitches, having good at-bats and getting on base.”
MURPHY HEADS HOME
Batting coach Dwayne Murphy is expected back in camp on Monday after attending to an urgent family issue in his hometown of Oakland, Ca.
“We have all year together and we’re just getting started. It was a personal, family issue that needed to be taken care of,” said manager John Farrell.
In Murphy’s absence, triple-A hitting coach Chad Mottola has been filling in.
“Chad spent last September with us, he’s familiar not only with Murph’s program — which is an organizational program — but more specifically the check points in guys swings,” Farrell said. “He has a rapport with a number of guys either being in camp or guys that were in Las Vegas with him a year ago.”
Several major-league teams, most notably the World Series champion Cardinals, have opted to go with dual hitting coaches.
“It has come up for discussion,” Farrell said. “I can’t sit here today and say we’re going to go with that alignment but we have talked about it.”
VILLANUEVA LOOKING GOOD
Reliever Carlos Villanueva continues to recover from a circulation problem in his pitching hand but should be ready to get into game action by next weekend.
“Threw a bullpen (Friday), came out of that fine,” said manager John Farrell. “He’s set for BP (Sunday) and then would get into a simulated game with two days off. Wednesday would be his game, then, provided everything continues on course, next weekend (for game action).”
Villanueva said the discomfort in his hand continues to improve and is not affecting his delivery. The righty was a valuable member of the staff last year, initially as a long reliever and then as an emergency member of the starting rotation.
REST FOR YOUNG ARMS
The Jays have realigned their pitching assignments for the next few days, though manager John Farrell said not to read too much into that.
On the original sked, Henderson Alvarez was to pitch Sunday in Bradenton, with Drew Hutchison starting in Lakeland on Monday against the Tigers.
Now Aaron Laffey will pitch Sunday and Alvarez will go Monday. Hutchison will now make his first appearance in a split-squad game in Bradenton. Kyle Drabek will start that game and Hutchison will follow him to the mound.
“There’s nothing physical. We just looked at the overall number of pitches thrown during the early part of camp and built one extra day in for Alvarez,” Farrell said.
While that may be the main reason, the twinning of Drabek’s and Hutchison’s schedules provides some intrigue. They are both in the mix for a spot in the starting rotation and could be considered No 6 and No. 7 on a depth chart of starters.
It is significant that Farrell is planning to make that trip to see Drabek and Hutchison, rather than stay back with the main body of players who will be facing the Red Sox in Dunedin.