Notes: Bullpen roles up for grabs
Fates of Zambrano, Gonzalez hinge on League's recovery
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Another Spring Training game came and went on Sunday, and the Blue Jays' bullpen situation didn't get any clearer.
Brandon League is still a few days away from making his first official Grapefruit League appearance, which means that two spots in the 'pen have yet to be defined. There's a handful of pitchers vying for relief jobs, and their chances depend on League's status for Opening Day.
A few hours before the Blue Jays took the field at Osceola County Stadium, manager John Gibbons leaned back on the bench inside the visitors' dugout and discussed League -- more specifically, the probability that the 24-year-old reliever will break camp with the big-league club.
"If you asked me today, I'd say probably not," Gibbons said. "We want to make sure he's good and ready."
The next step for League is to either make an appearance in another Minor League game on Tuesday, which is an off-day for Toronto, or pitch in a Grapefruit League game this week for the Jays. The right-hander pitched in a Class A game on Saturday -- his first game action since injuring his right lat muscle roughly a month ago.
According to Gibbons, two pitchers that Toronto might consider for bullpen roles are Victor Zambrano and Geremi Gonzalez, who each signed Minor League deals with the Jays this past offseason. Both right-handers are veterans and each has experience as a starter and reliever.
Zambrano, 31, is quickly recovering from the Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery he underwent in May. This spring, he's 1-0 with a 1.59 ERA in three outings, and Toronto has been able to stretch Zambrano out to three innings.
"We might bump him up to four [innings]," said Gibbons, who wouldn't rule out using Zambrano as a starter, either. "He's so far ahead of schedule that we anticipate that he's still in the mix ... for one of the roles."
The 32-year-old Gonzalez has posted a 4.50 ERA in four relief appearances for Toronto this spring. Last season, he went 4-2 with a 5.79 ERA in 24 games between stints with the Mets and Brewers.
"He's definitely in the hunt [for a job]," Gibbons said. "He's got a track record. He's very valuable in what he does. He can eat some innings for you, and he can pitch in different roles."
Change for the better: Blue Jays right-hander A.J. Burnett continued to work on his changeup against the Astros on Sunday. Burnett has relied heavily on a fastball and curveball throughout his career, but he plans on adding the changeup into the mix more often this season.
"It's feeling good. I'm getting more confidence throwing it," Burnett said. "There's going to be times in clutch situations where last year everybody said, 'OK, this guy's going to come after you with a fastball.' To have something else is only going to help."
Against Houston on Sunday afternoon, Burnett practiced throwing changeups and curveballs in situations where he might not use those pitches in the regular season. That contributed to a higher pitch count, which reached 81 by the time Gibbons pulled Burnett with one out in the fifth inning.
Burnett allowed four runs on four hits with three walks and two strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings. Burnett left a few pitches up in the strike zone toward the end of his outing, but he and Gibbons were still pleased with the progress the pitcher has made with the changeup.
"It only makes sense that he throws that," Gibbons said. "Otherwise, you're limited to two pitches. If he masters that, gets in those fastball counts and can pull the rip cord like that, shoot -- that's a big pitch for him. The top guys, they need three pitches, and he can do it."
Don't swing: True to the spring trend, Toronto's pitchers kept the bat on their shoulder while in the batter's box on Sunday. That didn't mean that Burnett -- a former National League pitcher -- didn't want to take a hack at a pitch or two.
"[I wanted to swing] very, very bad," Burnett said with a grin. "But I got a little warning ahead of time."
"Yeah, I told him it'd be $2,000 bucks a swing -- possibly higher," Gibbons joked after the game.
During his only at-bat, Burnett stared at three straight fastballs from Houston pitcher Roy Oswalt. The Astros' ace fired the last two right down the middle, and Burnett walked back to the dugout, sporting a smile.
"I told [Houston catcher Brad Ausmus that Oswalt] could throw two more down the middle and I'm not going to budge," Burnett said. "If he wanted to get out of there and keep his pitch count down, just pump 'em in there."
On the mound: Toronto will send right-hander Tomo Ohka to the hill to take on the Yankees for a five-inning start on Monday. Meanwhile, Jays right-hander John Thomson is scheduled to pitch in a Minor League game. Gibbons said that Ohka and Thomson would start in a Minor League game and a Grapefruit League game, respectively, for their next scheduled turns later this week.
Roster moves: Following Sunday's game, the Blue Jays reassigned catcher Curtis Thigpen, infielder Kevin Barker, infielder Ryan Roberts, outfielder Chad Mottola and outfielder John-Ford Griffin to Minor League camp. Toronto now has 38 players, including 11 non-roster invitees, at Spring Training with the big-league club.
Quotable: "They're not athletes." -- Gibbons, joking about why he hasn't allowed his pitchers to swing during at-bats this spring
Coming up: Ohka is scheduled to make his third start of the spring when the Blue Jays host the Yankees at 1:05 p.m. ET on Monday at Knology Park.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.