Notes: Tallet makes team
Big left-hander will fill roster spot opened by Burnett's injury
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- He's tall and wears No. 56. For most of Spring Training, that's all most people knew about Brian Tallet. Things can change in a heartbeat, though.
Tallet -- a 6-foot-7 left-hander -- didn't expect to make Toronto's Opening Day roster. Then he went out and allowed no runs in his nine spring outings. Now, he's the pitcher filling the open roster spot left by A.J. Burnett, who will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list.
Toronto acquired Tallet from Cleveland in a trade for righty Bubbie Buzachero on Jan. 17. In February, the Blue Jays had to make room on their 40-man roster when they signed catcher Bengie Molina. They decided to see if Tallet, who was out of options, would clear waivers.
He did. And Toronto has gotten to know him very well since.
"I didn't know anything about him," Toronto manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "I knew he was up in Cleveland. But he pitched so darned good. Things worked out for him. You've got to get breaks in this business. He couldn't have pitched any better, that's for sure."
Tallet, who notched two scoreless innings in an exhibition game against Triple-A Syracuse on Friday, will occupy the spot in the bullpen left by Scott Downs, who is filling in for Burnett in the rotation for the first two weeks. Toronto will probably use Tallet as a middle reliever, but he has the ability to be a long reliever if the Jays need him to do that.
Tallet was just thrilled Toronto wanted to use him at all.
"That was the best news I've heard in a long time," Tallet said. "I had a whole new set of eyes looking at me. It's the first time I've been with a different organization, and I wanted to come out and try to make a good impression. I was able to do that."
Tallet, 28, is 1-2 with a 4.04 ERA in nine Major League games, including five starts for Cleveland. This spring, he pitched 11 1/3 scoreless innings, had six strikeouts, four walks and gave up seven hits.
"A couple injuries popped up, and he just kept jumping to the forefront," Ricciardi said. "He did a great job. He deserved to make the club. Obviously, it was an injury that gave him the hole, but he took advantage of it."
Mounds of questions: Ted Lilly nearly escaped his third Spring Training with Toronto without an injury. The left-hander missed the past two springs due to various ailments, but he appeared to be headed toward this year's Opening Day unscathed.
Toronto's exhibition game was shortened to five innings on Friday because Lilly was unable to pitch due to a sore back. He was expected to begin the season as Toronto's No. 2 starter, since Burnett is on the shelf, but Lilly will probably be pushed to the back of the rotation as a precaution.
Lilly said that he woke up with a "stiff back" the morning after his start against Pittsburgh on March 26, when he gave up seven runs and five home runs. The area that is sore is a muscle located to the left of his right shoulder blade. Lilly tried to play long toss on Thursday, but he said there was too much pain, and he had to cancel his start against Syracuse.
"I definitely would have liked to have [started]," Lilly said. "But I just didn't want to make it worse."
Lilly will go with the team to Toronto and will throw a couple of side sessions before making his first start. He doesn't expect to miss an outing in the first week.
"I can't imagine that it would [keep me out very long]. I went and saw the doctor yesterday, and he doesn't think it's anything serious," Lilly said. "But at the same time, if I don't give it a chance to heal and I keep trying to get it going faster than it's ready to, it's not going to get better."
Contingency plans: None of the injuries facing Toronto's starting rotation have been major, but the banged-up pitchers have made for a potentially messy first week. Roy Halladay, Josh Towers and Gustavo Chacin appear ready to serve as the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 starters for the first three games, but Lilly and Downs create a few question marks.
Lilly and Downs, who will throw off a mound on Sunday after suffering a minor case of tendinitis in his right knee, might make their starts as scheduled. Downs said he hasn't had any lingering issues, but if Lilly's back doesn't heal quickly, Toronto could have a dilemma for his spot in on the staff.
"If that happens to Lilly, we're kind of in a jam," Gibbons said. "You've got some young kids down there in Triple-A, but, ideally, you don't want to have to go to that, because they aren't that far along, either."
In a worst-case scenario, in which Lilly would have to miss a start, Toronto could look to right-hander Shaun Marcum. Besides Tallet, Marcum was one of the options to join the bullpen. Gibbons and Ricciardi both have said they like Marcum and that he could serve as a reliever or a temporary starter.
"We like Marcum a lot," Ricciardi said. "He's going to be a big leaguer with us, hopefully soon. We just thought Tallet was the better guy for us at this point."
Mac's back: Infielder John McDonald played five innings at shortstop and received five at-bats in a Minor League game on Thursday. McDonald has been recovering from a sore lower back, but he said that he hasn't felt any pain in the past few days. He will head to Toronto with the team and doesn't expect any further back problems.
Quotable: "As they dwindled down -- the guys in camp -- and I kept staying, I definitely knew that I had a chance. How big the chance was, I wasn't sure." -- Tallet, on being added to the bullpen
Coming up: Toronto will play Triple-A Syracuse in an exhibition game at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday at Knology Park. Burnett, who hasn't pitched in a game since March 18, is scheduled to throw two innings, and Gustavo Chacin is scheduled to pitch six innings.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.