Blue Jays promote Thole, LaRoche from Minors
Veteran backstop Blanco designated for assignment
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays opted to make a change with R.A. Dickey's personal catcher on Friday afternoon by promoting Josh Thole from Triple-A Buffalo.
Veteran catcher Henry Blanco was designated for assignment by the club to open up a spot on the 25-man roster. Toronto also selected the contract of infielder Andy LaRoche from Buffalo to take the spot of outfielder Anthony Gose, who was optioned to the Bisons on Thursday.
Blanco caught all but one of Dickey's starts 13 starts this season but struggled to generate any type of offensive production with his bat.
"Henry's a friend and has been for a while," Dickey said. "So to lose a friend, there's a human component to this that gets overlooked sometimes. It's hard to lose a friend any time. From a performance standpoint, he obviously has done admirably, and it's for other people to tell you why he was sent out."
Blanco hit just .184 with three doubles in 38 at-bats with the Blue Jays this season. He was signed during the offseason because of his defense, but the bat became too much of a liability and he was relegated to the bench even during the club's recent road trip in Interleague Play.
Thole will now take over as Dickey's personal catcher while also backing up J.P. Arencibia during the other games. It's a role Thole is more than familiar with, having worked with Dickey during each of the past two seasons in New York.
The 26-year-old Thole was batting .322 with seven homers and 31 RBIs through 41 games with Buffalo this season. Thole, 26, was traded along with Dickey to the Blue Jays last December and is a career .261 hitter, with seven home runs and 87 RBIs in 308 games.
"Staying with my routine," Thole said when asked about his offensive success at Triple-A. "I put together my routine at the end of Spring Training with [hitting coach] Chad Motolla and Jon Nunally and have been staying with that. Hopefully it all translates."
Even though Thole has plenty of experience working with Dickey there likely will be a bit of a transition period as he tries to familiarize himself with the knuckleball once again. The two haven't worked together since last September, and some early growing pains should be expected.
In an effort to stay ready, roving catching instructor Sal Fasano would throw some knuckleballs to him during recent weeks, but they obviously wouldn't be on the same level as the ones coming from the former National League Cy Young Award winner.
Dickey already knows he works well with Thole but some patience during the first few sessions will be key.
"Regardless of how long you've done it, there's still that re-acclimation to the movement, to the depth, to the lateness of the pitch that is different," said Dickey, who is 5-7 with a 4.66 ERA this season. "I'm going to throw with him tomorrow in the bullpen, and I'm sure it'll be like riding a bicycle for him. He's really good at it."
LaRoche, signed to a Minor League deal in January, hit .282 with seven homers and 32 RBIs in 49 games with the Bisons. LaRoche, the younger brother of Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche, has played in the Majors previously with the Dodgers, Pirates and A's, last appearing in the big leagues in 2011. He spent the 2012 season at Triple-A in the Cleveland and Boston organizations.
The 29-year-old LaRoche has experience at all four infield positions, but he spent this season in Buffalo playing only the corner spots. He is expected to see some time at third base as part of a three-way platoon with Mark DeRosa and Maicer Izturis.
The Blue Jays expect to use that type of patchwork solution until 23-year-old Brett Lawrie is ready to return from a severe left ankle sprain. Lawrie, who is currently on the 15-day disabled list, does not have an immediate time frame for his return.
"Hopefully just come up here, and whatever role they want me to play, do it as good as I can," LaRoche said. "Hopefully help contribute to this team, and help them win as much as I can.
"I saw Brett go down, but the fact that I wasn't on the [40-man] roster at the time meant [the promotion] might be a little while or it might not happen at all. All I could do was go out there continue to play every day and whatever happens, happens."