03/08/2013 4:32 PM ET
Potential free agency not causing Johnson stress
By Gregor Chisholm / MLB.com
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Josh Johnson is entering arguably the most important season of his career, but he claims not to be putting much thought into that.
Johnson is set to become a free agent at the end of the year, and a strong season will undoubtedly result in a big payday.
This has the potential to become a stressful situation for any player, but Toronto's No. 4 starter says it's the furthest thing from his mind. That's hard to take at face value, but the Blue Jays aren't concerned either way as long as the numbers are there at the end of the season.
"It's everybody's career. ... It's human nature," manager John Gibbons said. "He's a team guy, though. That doesn't necessarily surprise me. He's a special pitcher. He's been one of the top guys in the game for a lot of years. We are going to need him."
The contract talks can wait for now, and Johnson is instead focusing on having a big first season in Toronto. If that happens, the money will follow; the production also will go a long way in helping Toronto succeed in its quest of reaching the postseason.
It's only Spring Training, but Johnson has looked extremely sharp early in camp. He retired all 11 Atlanta batters he faced on Friday afternoon while striking out five in a relatively dominating performance.
His velocity consistently reached 94 mph for the first time this spring, and he also displayed a much better curveball than he did in his previous three outings. Overall, it was a very productive afternoon.
"Just being able to repeat my delivery," Johnson said when asked about the most important aspect of the start against Atlanta. "That's it. I threw a lot of sinkers today; that pitch is coming around for me, finally.
"I threw a couple of good changeups. I didn't want to throw too many sliders."
Blue Jays have options if Lawrie not ready
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Blue Jays remain optimistic that Brett Lawrie will be ready for the start of the season, but if he's not, the club has several options at its disposal.
Lawrie strained a muscle in his left rib cage and is expected to be out for two to three weeks. That would give him enough time to be ready for Opening Day, but the Blue Jays will eventually have to look for a plan B if there's any type of setback.
One option that likely won't happen is Jose Bautista making a return to third base. Bautista has spent parts of nine seasons in the big leagues at third, and although a switch hasn't been totally ruled out, it appears extremely unlikely.
"We haven't talked about that," manager John Gibbons said. "It's always a possibility."
Gibbons was then pressed on the issue of a potential return to third for Bautista, but he quickly clarified the comment and dismissed any speculation. That could change if Lawrie's issue becomes a long-term thing, but for now there are other options that would take a priority.
Veteran utility man Mark DeRosa likely would see his fair share of time as Lawrie's replacement, and Maicer Izturis could make the transition from second. The same cannot be said for Emilio Bonifacio, who has been working through some throwing problems this spring.
The club would prefer that Bonifacio continue working at second in order to work out those kinks.
"He's still competing at second base, so we want to leave him there, let him do that," Gibbons said. "We brought DeRosa in to play that spot, too. It is all going to depend on how [Lawrie] progresses the next week or so, and we will get a better idea of how long it's going to take before we do anything."
Wagner has disappointing outing against Orioles
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Neil Wagner's chances of cracking the Opening Day roster took a bit of a hit following Thursday's disappointing outing against the Orioles.
Wagner, one of the surprise storylines in camp, pitched himself into the bullpen mix with several impressive outings in a row.
That streak came to an end against Baltimore, though, as he took the loss after surrendering three runs on two hits and a hit batter in two-thirds of an inning.
"The first two guys easily could have been outs, and then it's a whole new inning," bullpen coach Pat Hentgen said. "Other than that, just like a lot of guys, they overthrow, and ... How do you tell a guy to just click it back, dial it back, pitch at 92, 93 mph and let's hit our spots?
"So that's what I think Wagner could learn from -- the fact that it's not about how hard you throw, it's where you throw it. That's a hard thing to tell a young pitcher."
Wagner has the ability to pitch in the upper-90s, but control within the strike zone has been a bit of an issue in the past. Until Thursday, though, it hadn't been a problem this spring, and the hope is that the trend won't continue.
The 27-year-old remains a dark-horse candidate to crack the 25-man roster. He faces stiff competition from the likes of Brad Lincoln, Aaron Loup, J.A. Happ, Jeremy Jeffress and Dave Bush, but he still has plenty of time in camp to showcase his abilities.
"You can't let one inning sway you," manager John Gibbons said. "He has pitched very good. We'll see, there is still a lot of time left. It's going to be a tough decision, we figure."