DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays' evaluation of catcher Erik Kratz began in earnest Thursday afternoon when he was behind the plate for a start by knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
Kratz spent the first two weeks of camp working with Dickey, but it's one thing to catch a knuckleball during a side session and it's an entirely different challenge to catch it during a game with runners on base.
It didn't take long for Kratz to be thrown right into the fire as the Phillies loaded the bases against Dickey during the first inning. Kratz was then charged with a passed ball that allowed a run to score, but for the most part, he looked quite comfortable.
"I felt like it went well. Obviously I'd like to see him go out there and go 1-2-3, but no better than hopping right into it and getting guys on base and getting the anticipation of that out of the way," Kratz said. "It was like I thought it was going to be, but it was something that I know I can build on and definitely improve upon."
Spring Training is only a couple of weeks old, but as of now, Kratz appears to be the early favorite to become Dickey's personal catcher. An opportunity clearly presented itself when Blue Jays manager John Gibbons went on record earlier this spring to say that starting catcher Dioner Navarro is unlikely to get behind the plate for any of Dickey's games.
Josh Thole is competing for that backup job as well, but has yet to spend much time with Dickey this spring. One of the reasons is Thole and Dickey worked with each other during each of the past two seasons and won't need a lot of reps, but there's still some doubt that Thole actually has a chance for the backup role.
There will need to be more improvement before the start of the season, but it was a strong debut for Kratz. He looked relaxed behind the plate and waited for the ball to come to him as opposed to reaching out and trying to force the issue, which can cause problems with the late-breaking pitch.
"It wasn't perfect," Kratz said after the Blue Jays' 7-5 victory. "I had the anticipated anxiety that I thought I would. The idea of trying to relax, being out there, getting a different visual. But I felt like it went very well. I felt like there is plenty of room for improvement, but I thought it went well and a lot of things that I saw in his bullpen sessions, it was good to see them in the game."
Encarnacion willing to play first whenever needed
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Edwin Encarnacion moved quickly to dismiss a report that he has informed the Blue Jays of his preference to become a full-time designated hitter.
Toronto-based radio station Sportsnet 590 The Fan reported Thursday morning Encarnacion told the Blue Jays that he would rather DH this season as opposed to playing first base.
A group of reporters approached Encarnacion following a morning workout to broach the subject, and the 31-year-old laughed out loud. He also shook his head and appeared genuinely surprised by the news.
"I never said that," Encarnacion said. "Whatever the manager wants to do, I'm ready for it. If I have to play every day at first, I'll play. If I have to play both, I'm ready for it. ... I don't know where that came from."
The timing of the report was rather unusual considering Encarnacion played first base during Wednesday's spring opener and was back at the position again Thursday afternoon against the Phillies. He has been taking ground balls at the position on a daily basis, and all indications are that Encarnacion will once again split time on the right side of the infield with Adam Lind.
Encarnacion has been known in the past to enjoy his time at DH. That provides him with an opportunity to go into the clubhouse between at-bats and watch video to study the opposing pitcher.
"That's the only thing, I like to play DH sometimes because I have more time to go to the computer, watch the pitcher, watch the video," Encarnacion said. "When you play defense, you don't have time to do that, but for me, if I have to play first base, I don't have a problem with that. I made adjustments."
The overall plan is unlikely to change from previous seasons. Last year, Encarnacion played 79 games at first base and 55 at DH. Lind typically gets the start at first when Encarnacion is in the lineup as a DH, and the timeshare has allowed both players to remain relatively fresh.
Lind has dealt with back issues in each of the past three seasons, and it would appear unlikely that he could be relied upon to play first base on an everyday basis. The Blue Jays intend to divide time in the field between the two players.
"I'll be ready for whatever they need me to do," said Encarnacion, who hit .272 with 36 homers and 104 RBIs last season.
Rogers feels good after first spring outing
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Right-hander Esmil Rogers put an end to his rather eventful week by tossing one inning of relief against the Phillies on Thursday afternoon.
Rogers departed the team earlier this week to attend the birth of his child. He returned late Wednesday and that gave him just enough time to prepare for his first outing of the spring.
The relief appearance was a precursor to an upcoming start against the Yankees on Sunday afternoon, but with Rogers competing against a long list of candidates for the fifth spot in the rotation every outing has some importance.
"They're not going to give the spot to me, I have to get it," said Rogers, who allowed a two-run homer to Darin Ruf in his lone inning of work. "I'm going to do everything that I can, I'm going to do my best. They gave me the opportunity to start in Spring Training so I'm going to do everything I can to be there the rest of the season."
Rogers exclusively threw cut-fastballs and changeups during his abbreviated appearance in order to get warmed up for Sunday's start. He did surrender the homer on a first-pitch fastball to Ruf, but then quickly settled down and retired the final three batters he faced.
It shouldn't take long for Rogers to round into form as he spent the offseason pitching in the Dominican Winter League, but even with so much going on in his life during the past couple of months, there doesn't appear to be any concern about fatigue.
"No, no, no. I don't feel tired or anything like that," Rogers said. "I started for a little bit, my arm feels great, my body feels great and I'm ready to use Spring Training to get ready for the season."