03/05/12 6:10 PM ET
Villanueva inches closer to game action
By Gregor Chisholm / MLB.com
Toronto's right-hander has yet to appear in a game because of a bizarre hand injury he suffered at the beginning of camp. Late last month, Villanueva experienced a cold sensation in his hand, which the club believed was related to a circulation problem.
Villanueva has since returned to the mound and pitched during batting practice on Sunday morning without any ill effects.
"No issues today -- a day later -- and he's set for a simulated game on Wednesday," Blue Jays manager John Farrell told reporters prior to Monday's game against the Tigers. "So [he's] making very positive strides to hopefully get back into a game some time on the weekend."
The 27-year-old Villanueva is considered a strong favorite to win one of the final two spots in Toronto's bullpen. He is facing competition from Luis Perez, Evan Crawford and Rick VandenHurk.
Villanueva went 6-4 with a 4.04 ERA in 20 appearances out of the bullpen and 13 starts in 2011. The six-year veteran is 26-28 with a 4.28 ERA in his career.
Blue Jays set with wealth of pitching depth
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Blue Jays will be without right-hander Jesse Litsch for at least the next eight to 10 weeks because of a shoulder injury, but the club appears to have plenty of depth to help fill the void.
Litsch, who underwent orthroscopic surgery last week to clean up an infection in his right shoulder, was in contention for one of the final two spots in Toronto's bullpen.
Those two jobs likely will be handed to Carlos Villanueva and Luis Perez, but even if someone else goes down with an injury, there are relievers ready to step in if needed.
"You can never have enough pitching," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "I know that's an old cliche, but pitching is a game of attrition and it's going to change either because of performance or physical challenges that arise."
In addition to Villanueva and Perez, the Blue Jays also have Joel Carreno, Evan Crawford and Rick VandenHurk on their depth chart. The club also possesses the likes of Chad Beck, Danny Farquhar and Jim Hoey ready for the Major Leagues, but they are projected to start the year in Triple-A Las Vegas.
In the starting rotation, Toronto has a set starting five of Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Henderson Alvarez and Dustin McGowan, but there are plenty of others ready to step in if needed. Aaron Laffey and Kyle Drabek are the first fill-in options, while top prospects Drew Hutchison, Deck McGuire and Chad Jenkins aren't far off.
It's by far the most depth the Blue Jays have had during general manager Alex Anthopoulos' tenure in Toronto. Just like any other club, Toronto hopes to remain healthy.
"You have to prepare to have seven to nine starters that are Major League-capable at some point in the year," Farrell said. "And at least four or five other interchangeable guys that you can count on to come up and pitch out of the bullpen and contribute."
Crawford impressing when opportunities arise
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Left-hander Evan Crawford continues to make a strong impression with Toronto manager John Farrell.
Crawford struck out two and pitched a perfect fourth inning in his first official appearance of the Grapefruit League season.
The 25-year-old still faces an uphill battle to break camp with the Blue Jays, but it's possible -- if Crawford keeps pitching well -- that could change.
"Very crisp stuff ... name recognition isn't phasing him one bit, and it's good to see," Farrell said of Crawford, who struck out Miguel Cabrera in Monday's 4-2 loss to the Tigers. "We talked the other day about guys making an impression, and it's been two appearances, but still, he's making the most of his opportunities."
Crawford's first chance to shine came during an intrasquad game on Friday, when he pitched a clean inning and caught Jose Bautista looking on a devastating changeup.
The native of Florida faces his stiffest competition for a spot in the bullpen from fellow left-hander Luis Perez. One factor working in Perez's favor, though, is that he's out of options on his contract and would need to go through waivers before being assigned to the Minor Leagues.
That should give Perez a leg up on Crawford, who likely will begin the year with Triple-A Las Vegas. Last season with Double-A New Hampshire, Crawford went 3-5 with a 3.35 ERA in 51 innings out of the bullpen.