03/20/2013 6:58 PM ET
Jeffress' struggles complicate bullpen competition
By Gregor Chisholm / MLB.com
SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Blue Jays still have to make at least one tough decision on their bullpen with less than two weeks to go until Opening Day.
Toronto has a pair of jobs up for grabs, but with left-hander Aaron Loup as the clear-cut favorite for one of those spots, the other candidates appear to be battling it out for the long-reliever role.
Right-hander Jeremy Jeffress made his latest audition in a 6-5 loss to the Orioles, but did little to separate himself from the rest of the pack. Jeffress surrendered three solo home runs and walked a pair of batters over two innings of work Wednesday, when he started and was scheduled to throw three innings.
"I'm just leaving it all up to them and I'm just focusing on playing the game," Jeffress said. "If they pick a spot -- long relief, one inning -- it's up to them. I'm just going out there, doing my best and trying to get the hitters out.
"I'm capable of doing it, and if they need me to do it, I will do it. I'm not set on one or two innings, I'm ready to throw as many innings as I can. I'd love to throw as many innings as I can."
Despite Jeffress' rough outing, he still remains very much in the mix thanks to a relatively strong spring. He entered play against the Orioles having surrendered just three runs in eight innings and appears to be neck-and-neck with left-hander Brett Cecil for the final spot in Toronto's bullpen.
There has never been any debate about Jeffress' potential. He has the ability to throw in the upper-90s, and his powerful arsenal is one of the main reasons he was selected with the 16th overall pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.
The issue has been a lack of command. Jeffress has averaged seven walks per nine innings during parts of three seasons at the big league level, and that appears to be the one thing holding him back.
"He's electric," catcher J.P. Arencibia said. "Sometimes the ball is up. There were a couple of homers that were kind of windblown, but the only time he got hurt was when he was up.
"He can throw three pitches that are good. It's really just controlling that pitch in the bottom of the zone. If you make any pitch down in the zone, you're usually not going to get hurt."
Manager John Gibbons said there's no timetable for when a final decision will be made on the bullpen. In addition to Jeffress and Cecil, veteran Dave Bush and recently acquired Guillermo Moscoso are also candidates. Moscoso relieved Jeffress against the Orioles and also allowed three runs, throwing only an inning.
Bush is a somewhat surprise addition to the list, and while he remains a long shot, the 33-year-old has opened some eyes in camp. On an afternoon when the Blue Jays pitching staff struggled to get anybody out, it was Bush that came in to calm the storm, throwing three scoreless innings. He allowed three hits and walked one, striking out three.
"He knows what he's doing," Gibbons said. "He's not going to beat himself. He's going to throw strikes, and you know what you're going to get. He's still in the mix."
Lawrie, Janssen, McGowan all make progress
SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Blue Jays' walking wounded continue to make progress from their various injuries, and there's hope the club will be almost completely healthy by Opening Day.
Brett Lawrie, who is out with a strained muscle in his right rib cage, played catch Wednesday for the first time since suffering the injury earlier this month. The Blue Jays are still optimistic that Lawrie will be able to appear in a game in a few days, or at least the beginning of next week.
"We don't know exactly, but he'll take some ground balls tomorrow," manager John Gibbons said. "He felt good when he played catch today, no pain."
Closer Casey Janssen also took another positive step Wednesday by throwing one inning in a Minor League game. He faced five batters and reported no lingering effects from his surgically-repaired right shoulder.
Janssen is now scheduled to appear in the Blue Jays' game Friday against the Red Sox and will need at least a few appearances before getting cleared to start the year in Toronto.
Right-hander Dustin McGowan joined Janssen at the club's Minor League complex Wednesday morning by throwing an inning of his own. McGowan struck out the first batter he faced and then retired the next two in his first appearance in a game since being shutdown more than a year ago.
"McGowan was lights-out, and Casey threw good," Gibbons said. "They both threw really well over there."
Blue Jays plan to give Arencibia plenty of action
SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Blue Jays are expected to give J.P. Arencibia all the work he can handle during the final two weeks before Opening Day.
Arencibia recently returned to the club after competing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. With All-Star catcher Joe Mauer also competing for the Americans, Arencibia's playing time was limited, and the Blue Jays will help him make up for lost time.
Despite playing in only two Classic games and getting five at-bats for the Americans, Arencibia's timing at the plate appears to be doing quite well. Arencibia went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and three RBIs against the Orioles on Wednesday in one of his best days at the plate this spring.
"Today I felt pretty good," said Arencibia, who is hitting .435 (10-for-23) in the Grapefruit League season. "I haven't felt great. I felt good, and at the WBC, I didn't play everyday, so I got out of sync a little bit.
"Yesterday, I felt a little off, but today I got to work in the cage with [hitting coach Chad Mottola], loosen up my hands a little bit, and squared up the ball pretty well today."
The Blue Jays also plan to give Arencibia plenty of time behind the plate so he can continue to familiarize himself with their pitching staff. With so many additions during the offseason, the more repetition Arencibia can have with his new staff, the better off he'll be.
Arencibia did have a lot of time to work with No. 1 starter R.A. Dickey at the World Baseball Classic, but now he'll work with the rest of the staff, as well.
"You just want to catch guys as much as possible," Arencibia said. "I feel the more comfortable you are, the better off you're going to be. I feel good with everybody already, but you want to be able to catch as much as you can."