03/03/12 1:20 PM ET
Farrell more equipped steer Blue Jays
By Gregor Chisholm / MLB.com
Farrell, who took over for Cito Gaston in October 2010, is more familiar not only with his players, but also his coaching staff. That has increased the level of comfort in camp and provided the club with a greater awareness of what is expected this season.
The 49-year-old set out to change the offensive mindset of his team last year, and now that the more aggressive running style is in place, it has been more about making minor adjustments rather than any drastic alterations.
"Being in this position for the first time, there were a lot of firsts," Farrell said of his rookie season in the dugout. "There was, at this time last year, a steep learning curve on the offensive side, what we were trying to do as a staff ... and then getting to understand the players as well.
"Also, we tried to change the culture of our offensive approach, so there were a lot of firsts from a number of different areas. This year, I'm not saying everything is a package deal, but we're starting at quite a bit of an advanced stage than a year ago."
Farrell entered last season having never managed at any level in professional baseball. He spent the previous four seasons as a pitching coach in Boston and also had experience as the director of player development in Cleveland under his belt.
One of the biggest learning curves in 2011 was having to deal with an entire roster for the first time. Previously in Boston, Farrell had to just concern himself with a 12-man pitching staff, but once in Toronto, he had to learn how to handle the offensive side of the game as well.
By all accounts, the transition was a smooth one, and the players responded favorably to his open-door policy. But that doesn't mean there weren't some bumps along the way, and now Farrell believes he has a better understanding of how to deal with the rigours of a 162-game season.
"There's probably a little bit more freedom on my part on how to approach guys," said Farrell, whose team went 81-81 last year en route to a fourth-place finish in the American League East. "When to pat a guy on the back, put your arm around him, when to be a little bit more stern in some cases.
"But I think this group gelled pretty well together considering the number of changes we went through. We ended the year with some understanding of what the vision for our team is and how we consistently communicate that takes any kind of gray area out of the minds of the players."
Blue Jays' batting order seemingly set
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays appear to have settled on the formation of their batting order for the upcoming season.
Toronto initially unveiled the lineup during an intrasquad game on Friday afternoon and maintained the status quo for the first game of the Grapefruit League season the following day.
Shortstop Yunel Escobar will once again bat in the leadoff spot and will be followed by Kelly Johnson, Jose Bautista and Adam Lind in the heart of Toronto's order.
Edwin Encarnacion appears to be the No. 5 hitter, followed by Colby Rasmus, Brett Lawrie, Eric Thames or Travis Snider -- depending on who wins the job in left field -- and last but not least, J.P. Arencibia.
The biggest question mark heading into camp was who would hit in front of Bautista. Last year, Toronto posted just a .268 average with a .311 on-base percentage out of the two hole, and manager John Farrell would like to see more production to give Bautista a better chance to drive in runs.
That responsibility will go to Johnson, who has a career on-base percentage of .343 and spent some time in that role with the D-backs in 2011.
"The way we construct a lineup, on-base percentage is the No. 1 criteria," Farrell said. "Kelly has that in his past. When we met -- as we have with every player one on one here -- he felt like the year in Arizona where he hit 26 home runs, he started to sacrifice some of that approach for more power.
"He recognizes what makes him a better player and one that fits into a lineup in that two-hole slot. I think after last year, where the average settled in on the low end for his career, he's back to the focus of what he did well a couple of years ago."
One of the biggest debates in baseball these days is whether teams should bat their best hitter in the No. 3 hole or the cleanup spot. Some critics believe that each team's best hitter should be guaranteed an at-bat in the first inning, while others feel that hitter should be situated in the fourth spot with the potential to possibly drive in more runs.
Farrell made it clear on Saturday which camp he belongs to.
"I think your best hitter should be in the three hole," Farrell said. "You want him coming to the plate in the first inning. It's going to give him a few more at-bats throughout the course of the season. Why wouldn't you want him more times than not in that spot?
"Jose is in scoring position at the plate. I'd rather him come up in the first inning with two outs rather than not come up at all."
Blue Jays scratch Alvarez for extra rest
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Henderson Alvarez has been scratched from his scheduled start on Sunday afternoon and instead will take the mound the following day against Detroit.
Toronto opted to make the late change in order to provide the second-year hurler with more rest prior to his first outing of the spring.
"We just looked at the overall number of pitches thrown through the pregame portion of the schedule and built one extra day in," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said late Saturday morning.
Farrell said the decision did not have anything to do with a minor foot injury that Alvarez suffered earlier in camp. Alvarez had been shut down for one day last week after getting hit in the foot during a game of catch with left-hander Luis Perez.
Top prospect Drew Hutchison was scheduled to start on Monday, but as a result of these changes, he will be moved to Wednesday. That puts him in line to come on in relief of right-hander Kyle Drabek.
Carlos Villanueva continues to make progress in his return from a bizarre right hand injury. Villanueva threw a bullpen session on Friday and did not feel any ill effects. He will throw batting practice on Sunday and is expected to then get into a simulated game following two days of rest. The 28-year-old Villanueva had been shut down last week after experiencing a cold sensation in his hand that the club believed was related to a circulation problem.
Blue Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy is expected to be back with his club on Monday. Murphy has missed the past week because of a personal family matter, but he is expected to travel back to Florida on Sunday. Triple-A Las Vegas hitting coach Chad Mottola has filled in for Murphy during his absence.
Manager John Farrell said the Blue Jays have considered the possibility of using two hitting coaches. Some organizations have gone that route in recent years, and while there are no immediate plans to make the change, it's something the organization has put some thought into. "It has come up for discussion," Farrell said. "I can't sit here today and say we're going to go with that alignment but we have talked about it."