04/04/06 8:00 PM ET
Notes: Lilly optimistic about Saturday
Blue Jays honor Cheek before opener at Rogers Centre
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
On Monday, Ted Lilly sounded frustrated after laboring through a round of long toss and wasn't sure he'd be able to overcome his nagging back pain in time for his first scheduled start. A day later, the left-hander experienced minor tightness, but was unexpectedly able to throw off a mound in the bullpen.
The successful session had Lilly more optimistic about his chances at taking the mound on Saturday for Toronto.
"I didn't feel that good [Monday]," Lilly said. "I didn't think I'd feel this good today. I didn't think it'd get this much better. I'm pleasantly surprised."
Lilly threw in the 'pen for around 10 minutes and tested out his complete arsenal of pitches. He said that he gradually increased the intensity every few minutes and even threw a handful of pitches at "game speed." He'll take Wednesday off, and then will have a light session in the bullpen on Thursday.
"I barely felt it and I thought I was really letting it go," Lilly said. "I wanted to find out, if I let it go, if [the back injury] was going to come back again -- if it would grab me again -- and it didn't."
Toronto manager John Gibbons said that the earliest that Lilly could come back would be as the fifth starter against Tampa Bay on Saturday. Even though Lilly felt good on Tuesday, he knows that the decision regarding his first start is ultimately up to the team.
"It's the club's decision," Lilly said. "We need a starter for Saturday and if I'm healthy enough to pitch, I'm going to pitch."
If he isn't healthy enough to pitch, the Blue Jays will probably turn to either Josh Banks or Casey Janssen -- both Minor League right-handers -- as the temporary replacement. Banks is on the 40-man roster and Janssen is not. If Toronto elects to call up Janssen, the team would have to make room on the roster.
Lilly woke up with a stiff back after his Spring Training start against the Pirates on March 26. The muscle pain is located to the left of his right shoulder blade.
Left and right: With left-hander Johan Santana on the mound for the Twins on Tuesday, Gibbons decided to start Reed Johnson and Alex Rios -- both right-handed hitters -- in left and right field, respectively. That duo is the part of the corner outfield platoon that Toronto plans on using primarily against lefites.
When the Blue Jays take on right-handed pitchers, the team will have left-handed hitters Frank Catalanotto and Eric Hinske in left and right. Gibbons doesn't plan on varying from this strategy at the beginning of the season.
In close games that Catalanotto and Hinske start, Gibbons will turn to Johnson and Rios in the late innings because of their defensive skills. That means in any given game, Toronto could use five outfielders, including center fielder Vernon Wells.
"It's not ideal. You just have to see how the game develops," Gibbons said. "You always have to keep in mind that you want your best defensive team out there late, especially with the lead and in a close ballgame. ... When you use so many guys, there might come a time when -- say you go extra innings -- you're strapped."
If the Jays ever are "strapped," Gibbons said utility player John McDonald would probably be the emergency outfielder. Having some of the outfielders emerge as everyday players could alter the plan going forward, though.
"If somebody takes the bull by the horns, it makes sense to keep the hot hand out there," Gibbons said. "We'll see. It won't be easy because guys all want a lot of playing time, but we can make it work."
Honoring Cheek: After the national anthems, Toronto played a brief video in memory of Tom Cheek, the longtime radio voice of the Blue Jays who passed away last October after a 16-month battle with brain cancer. The video had images from Cheek's first year covering Toronto in 1977 -- the team's inaugural season -- and showed many Jays highlights that Cheek called. The play-by-play man was in the booth for 4,306 consecutive games, a streak than ran from April 1, 1977 to June 3, 2004.
Shirley Cheek, Tom's wife, was at the home opener to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. All season long, Blue Jays players will wear a black patch in honor of Cheek. The patch has his initials -- "T.C." -- and has the image of a microphone.
Opening memory: Prior to Tuesday's game, Gibbons was asked about his favorite personal Opening Day memory and Toronto's skipper gave an immediate response.
"Shea Stadium, I caught Opening Day for the Mets in '84," Gibbons said. "We got pounded. I put down some bad fingers."
Gibbons was behind the plate for New York's home opener that season and he caught Ron Darling in a 10-0 loss to Montreal. Gibbons also went 1-for-3 with a hit off Expos' pitcher Bryn Smith.
After that game, Gibbons only had 47 more Major League at-bats.
"They're special," Gibbons said, referring to Opening Day games. "You never know how many you're going to have."
Quotable: "If you were in the booth and actually got to watch him do the game ... He'd ease about his way and he let the game kind of flow. I enjoyed listening to him and talking baseball with him, too."-- Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi, on Cheek
Coming up: Toronto right-hander Josh Towers takes the mound against Minnesota righty Brad Radke in the second game of a three-game set with the Twins at 7:07 p.m. ET on Wednesday at the Rogers Centre.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.