Notes: Burnett takes 'big step'
Right-hander tosses two strong innings in return to mound
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Simple as that, A.J. Burnett is back.
Burnett looked impressive against the Syracuse SkyChiefs on Saturday, making quick work of Toronto's Triple-A affiliate. He didn't allow a hit in two shutout innings. The outing was the right-hander's first since injuring his right elbow on March 18.
"It was a big step," said Burnett, who had three strikeouts and one walk. "I felt really good throwing in the [bullpen before the game], and I was geared up to get out there."
Burnett threw 33 pitches, 22 of which were strikes. The right-hander used his full repertoire of pitches and did not feel any pain in his first session since going down in the game against Boston two weeks ago.
Burnett, who signed a five-year, $55 million contract with the Blue Jays in December, had scar tissue break off in his elbow during a start against the Red Sox, which he left after one inning. The Toronto brass has not expressed too much concern, though, because this incident is fairly common for pitchers who have undergone Tommy John elbow ligament replacement.
"I'm very happy with the way he looked," said Toronto pitching coach Brad Arnsberg. "He used all his pitches, which we were excited about, and he had good command from the start. It's a positive sign that dispels any concerns we may have had."
Burnett will travel with the team to Toronto for Tuesday's Opening Day festivities, but he will return to Florida the next day to begin his rehab at the Blue Jays' Spring Training complex in Dunedin. Burnett will be placed on the 15-day disabled list to begin the season, and he will make his first appearance on April 16 against the World Series champion White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.
Scott Downs, who will pitch off a mound Sunday for the first time since suffering a mild case of patellar tendinitis in his right knee, will temporarily step into the rotation while Burnett is out.
Double duty: Bengie Molina put in some extra work, catching for both sides in the game between the Blue Jays and the SkyChiefs. Because Toronto pitchers threw for the Triple-A squad, the Blue Jays wanted their own catcher to handle the staff.
Molina, who caught for Burnett, also took pitches from Gustavo Chacin while the lefty threw for Syracuse.
"I had fun," said Molina, who caught three innings, then was relieved by Phillips. "I was telling Gus that I could get used to doing this."
What a spring! Reliever Jason Frasor made the most of Spring Training. The right-hander did not allow a run in 11 1/3 innings over nine appearances, and he is excited about his start.
"I'm ready to go," said Frasor, who struck out nine and gave up five walks. "I've just done a really good job in locating my fastball and mixing it up with my curve. I feel primed for the start of the season."
Remembering Tom:The Blue Jays honored Tom Cheek in a ceremony at Knology Park on Thursday. A plaque, which was placed on the wall at the main entrance of the park, honors the longtime broadcaster who passed away last fall at the age of 66 after a 16-month battle with brain cancer.
The plaque reads: "For more than 27 seasons, Tom never missed a Blue Jays game, a streak of 4,306 regular season games. He gave us many memories as he entertained and called Blue Jays games. He was a familiar voice, a story teller, a friend and a fan. 'You touched us all, Tom.'"
Cheek is most remembered for the call of Joe Carter hitting the title-clinching home run in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series against the Phillies. As Carter rounded the bases, Cheek said, "Touch 'em all, Joe. You'll never hit a bigger home run in your life."
Cheek's burial site is in nearby Sylvan Abbey Memorial Park in Clearwater, Fla. A granite bench bearing Cheek's name rests there with "The voice of the Blue Jays" inscribed across the top.
Running wild: The Blue Jays' catchers threw out only three of 32 runners attempting to steal a base this spring, but Molina is not concerned.
"During the spring, we're concentrating more on establishing a good rapport with the pitchers and making sure they are establishing themselves with their pitches," said Molina. "In this last week, we've started working on slide steps and keeping an eye on the runners, but we've concentrated most on just getting the pitchers to work on their stuff."
Opening gifts: The Blue Jays and General Motors of Canada announced that one lucky fan will drive away in a brand new car as part of the General Motors Opening Night festivities.
To highlight the start of the Blue Jays' 30th season in the American League, General Motors of Canada will give one fan their choice of either a 2006 Pontiac Solstice or a 2006 Chevrolet HHR. Three qualified semifinalists will be selected from in-stadium balloting conducted in the first four innings. The grand prize drawing will take place during the eighth inning.
Full contest rules are available by calling 800-GM-DRIVE or by visiting www.bluejays.com. Rules and regulations also will be included on the backs of all ballots and will be posted around Rogers Centre.
Other Opening Day events include:
Blue Man Group Toronto will perform the Canadian and American national anthems.
Shirley Cheek, the wife of the late Tom Cheek, will throw out the first pitch.
The Blue Jays will pay tribute to Cheek and Kirby Pucket, the Twins' Hall of Famer who passed away this spring.
Quotable: "We're just trying to wake up and make sure no one gets hurt." -- Frasor, on the 10 a.m. ET start of Saturday's game
Coming up: The Blue Jays head back to Toronto on Saturday, and they will have workouts on Sunday and Monday before Opening Day. On Tuesday, Toronto right-hander Roy Halladay, who won the American League Cy Young Award in 2003, will face Minnesota lefty Johan Santana, who won the same honor in '04, when the Blue Jays meet the Twins at 7:15 p.m. ET in the season opener at the Rogers Centre. It will be Halladay's fourth straight year serving as the Opening Day starter for Toronto.
Chris Girandola is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.