Jays ordering up protection

Edwin Encarnacion (above), swinging a hot bat this spring, may hit fourth in the batting order on...

Edwin Encarnacion (above), swinging a hot bat this spring, may hit fourth in the batting order on opening day, offering protection for the Blue Jays' top slugger Jose Bautista. (STEVE NESIUS/Reuters file photo)

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:44 PM ET

DUNEDIN, FLA. - The Blue Jays have been so reticent, so secretive, about announcing anything regarding their team that it is reaching comic proportions.

Even though there are just two games remaining in spring training, a cone of silence surrounds the makeup of their starting rotation, the order of said rotation and their opening-day lineup.

On Sunday morning, which doubled as April Fool’s Day, manager John Farrell climbed out on a limb and proclaimed that Ricky Romero would be the opening day starter in Cleveland.

If that isn’t a stop-the-presses bulletin, then what is?

Beyond that, Farrell was like a clam with lockjaw.

Rotation aside — and everybody knows which five starters it will be — Farrell penned a lineup Sunday against the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates that suspiciously looks like it could be the one he will send out against next Thursday in Cleveland.

Farrell, of course, declined to declare that this will be his starting nine but here goes: 1. SS Yunel Escobar, 2. 2B Kelly Johnson, 3. RF Jose Bautista, 4. DH Edwin Encarnacion, 5. 1B Adam Lind, 6. 3B Brett Lawrie, 7. LF Eric Thames, 8. C J.P. Arencibia and 9. CF Colby Rasmus.

Quick, someone call security!

The lone eyebrow-raiser regarding the lineup posted Sunday is the placement of Encarnacion in the cleanup spot, which last year was mostly reserved for first baseman Adam Lind, who batted fifth.

Lind, by the way, was making his first appearance in a game since his back tightened up while taking batting practice before the game last Tuesday night in Tampa against the Yankees.

Last season, Encarnacion batted cleanup in all of 16 games. This spring, though, he reported to camp minus some pounds and has been swinging the bat fairly well.

Lind, meanwhile, just started to find his groove when the back flared up.

Naturally, Farrell was asked if this would be his lineup on opening day? Farrell would neither confirm nor deny.

“That’s one possibility,” he said. “The way Edwin’s been swinging the bat all spring, he is in a good place. He took some very good swings yesterday. We’re going to have to stack some right-handers in there somewhere (the Jays have five right-handed hitters and four left-handed hitters). So, that’s the configuration at the moment.

“Spring training, you do have the benefit of taking a look at different things and this is one of those.”

The point of it all is to provide the best protection one can for their top slugger, Bautista. Right now, not knowing how Lind’s back will respond, that person is Steady Eddie.

“That’s some of the thought, yes,” Farrell conceded. “I can’t say that will be the case every single game but we’ve seen all through the course of last year that teams are going to pitch to our lineup with the focal point being Jose. We want to make a lineup that’s as deep in protection as possible.

First of all, more than anything, I love our lineup. We’ve got a deep lineup, one that’s capable of doing a number of different things.”

No team, of course, wants Bautista to beat them and one sure way to cut down on his number of intentional walks and unintentional walks is to have the 1-2 guys in the order — Escobar and Johnson — on base in front of him.

“That would be the ideal scenario,” Farrell said. “I think it’s safe to say that teams are going to look to attack the guy before and after him.”

Farrell then switched gears and talked of the importance of on-base percentage.

“One thing that we’ve established early on is that if one guy in the lineup is not getting his pitch to hit, then don’t be afraid to pass the baton to the next guy,” he said. “That’s what you see very good lineups are capable of doing. There’s trust in the next guy and you’re looking to build an inning regardless of where you are in the lineup.

“And I think we’ve got a lineup this year more capable of that one-through-nine. On-base percentage is, for me, the key component, particularly with the two guys ahead of Jose.”

Getting back to Lind, he played four innings and had two at-bats. He flew out to deep centre and walked. Overall, he felt just fine and will be one of the few regulars to make the trip Monday to Lakeland to face the Tigers.

“Everything felt good and I’m on track for opening day,” he said.

Two more games and north they go.

MCGOWAN OUT ’TIL MAY

The day following the announcement of his two-year contract extension, Dustin McGowan shook off his plantar fasciitis problem as being of little account.

“It’s just a foot,” he said.

That foot will now not only put McGowan on the disabled list to start the season, but will likely cause him to miss the entire month of April.

“We’re not going to rush anything,” Blue Jays manager John Farrell said Sunday. “We’ll take every precaution needed. We’re looking at the end of April at the minimum.”

The last time McGowan pitched was in a minor-league outing March 25. He took himself out in the second inning. Last Wednesday, March 28, he attempted to play catch, but shut that down as the foot was still bothersome.

“We’re probably (looking at) another five-to seven-day period where we’d then look to put a ball back in his hand,” he said. “While he’s feeling a little bit better, he’s not quite there yet.”

“A general rule of thumb is: The number of days missed, it’s going to take that same number to get back to where he left off,” Farrell said.

Then he’ll need two to three minor-league starts before being ready to rejoin the Jays which is an additional 10 days.

It looks more likely that a best-case scenario will have him ready to join the Blue Jays in early May.

MORROW ADDS TO ARSENAL

Brandon Morrow seems to have made a successful conversion from being a thrower to being a pitcher.

The Blue Jays right-hander with the live arm looked sharp in his final tuneup Sunday, blanking the Pirates on two hits over four innings.

His goal this spring was to work on adding a quality curve and changeup to his hard stuff — fastball and slider — and he has been successful.

“I think I accomplished what I set out to do, to polish up and gain a lot more feel and confidence with my third and fourth pitches,” he said. “I threw a lot of changeups, a lot of curveballs and really kept guys off balance all spring.”

Morrow knew that he needed to develop those pitches.

“I didn’t even throw the slider until my last three starts,” he said. “Towards the end of last year, I definitely learned some things about changing speeds and keeping guys off balance.


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