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01/30/07 9:12 PM ET

Jays take chance on vet Zambrano

Injured starter not expected to challenge in Spring

TORONTO -- Victor Zambrano had one major need: a team willing to give him some more time. He is eight months removed from surgery to repair his right elbow and will likely need most of Spring Training to continue his rehabilitation.

On Tuesday, the Blue Jays decided to take a chance on Zambrano, signing the 31-year-old right-hander to a Minor League contract that includes an invitation to Spring Training. Toronto knows Zambrano probably won't be able to join the group of pitchers battling for one of the last available rotation spots this spring, but that wasn't the club's expectation in the first place.

"Obviously, he's going to need a little more time, " Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "But by the time Spring Training is over, he'll be 10 months removed [from surgery] and we'll have a better idea of where he's at at that point. It's just a chance on a guy with a good arm. Hopefully, he's coming back."

Zambrano made $3 million last season with the Mets, but he became a free agent after New York decided not to tender the pitcher a contract in December. That ended nearly a three-year stint with New York, which acquired him in a controversial trade that sent left-hander Scott Kazmir to the Devil Rays in 2004.

Last season, Zambrano was limited to just five starts due to a major elbow injury and he finished just 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA. He went 10-14 with a 4.42 ERA in 39 outings, including 35 starts, in his time with the Mets.

On May 6 last year, Zambrano exited a start after tearing the flexor tendon in his right elbow. He had Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery on the same joint once previously, and the injury required another reconstructive operation.

"The No. 1 thing is him being healthy enough to be able to pitch at the Major League level," Ricciardi said.

Zambrano is the third pitcher with a recent history of injury that Toronto has signed this month. The Blue Jays also added starters John Thomson and Tomo Ohka, who are both coming off shoulder injuries. Thomson and Ohka were both examined and cleared by Toronto's medical staff, though, and are currently considered the leading candidates for the Nos. 4-5 spots in the rotation.

Toronto's rotation depth could become that much stronger if Zambrano is also able to successfully recover from his injury. The Blue Jays aren't only considering Zambrano as a starter, though.

Zambrano is 45-41 with a 4.45 ERA in 174 career appearances, including 96 starts. His experience out of the bullpen is also something that interested Toronto. Zambrano has a 4.82 ERA in 78 career relief outings.

"We'll have a better idea once we see him in Spring Training and at the end of Spring Training," Ricciardi said. "The one thing that's good about him is he can pitch out of the bullpen and he can start. I think having that flexibility allows us to be able to use him either way."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.