4/3/2014 8:43 P.M. ET
Alomar's home run challenge returning in 2014
By Gregor Chisholm / MLB.com
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Blue Jays announced that Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar will be hosting a Roberto Alomar & Friends charity home run challenge in four cities across the country in support of Jays Care Foundation.
The charitable events will be taking part in Toronto (May 8), Vancouver (July 6), Moncton (July 30) and Okotoks, AB (Aug. 10). Toronto alumni Jesse Barfield, Lloyd Moseby and others will be attending to provide pointers to the various participants.
The funds raised will allow Jays Care Foundation to support the Blue Jays Baseball Academy rookie league in Toronto, the refurbishment of a teen room at the Boys and Girls Club of South Coast in Vancouver and improvements to multiple baseball diamonds in both Moncton and the town of High River in Alberta.
"I am very excited to help Jays Care Foundation grow this program in Canada," Alomar said in a statement. "I love the work that Jays Care does, and I'm happy to get out on the field and help people hit some home runs for a good cause."
Local participants will receive a personalized uniform and equipment to participate in the alumni led hitting drills to prepare for each at-bat. The charity home run challenges were made possible through donations of equation from Rawlings and prizes courtesy of WestJet.
"The Roberto Alomar & Friends Charity Home Run Challenge program has been overwhelmingly successful and we are thrilled to be partnering with Robbie Alomar -- a true Blue Jays champion on and off the baseball diamond," executive director of Jays Care Foundation Danielle Bedasse said.
"The expansion of this popular program will not only help grow the game of baseball across Canada, but will assist Jays Care Foundation in leaving Blue Jays legacy programs from coast to coast."
Navarro earning early praise from Blue Jays
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The season is only four games old, but already the Blue Jays are singing the praises of veteran catcher Dioner Navarro.
Navarro was Toronto's only significant addition during an extremely quiet offseason. He signed a two-year contract as the club decided to part ways with last year's starter, J.P. Arencibia, who is now with the Rangers.
One of the hopes was that Navarro would be an upgrade offensively, but there's also been a noticeable difference in the way he has developed relationships with his pitching staff. A comfort level was developed during Spring Training, and has now carried over into the regular season.
"Even during Spring Training he came in with a real interest in learning the pitchers as fast as he could and I think it shows right now," pitching coach Pete Walker said the day after Mark Buehrle came within one out of a shutout vs Tampa Bay.
"He spent the spring getting a feel for these guys and I think the evidence was last night with Mark, I think they worked great together. He mixed his pitches tremendously, has a great feel behind the plate for making adjustments hitter to hitter, even pitch to pitch and I think that was evident last night."
From an outsider's perspective, it's often very difficult to measure the impact a catcher can have on his pitching staff. A catcher isn't going to all of a sudden going to turn a bad pitcher into an All-Star and vice-versa, but there are little things along the way that provide glimpses at a positive working relationship.
When a catcher isn't on the same page with his staff, it usually results in a lot of pitches being shaken off. There can be mixed signals and even the lack of confidence for a pitcher to throw a ball into the dirt with men on base. Just as important is the ability to come up with a cohesive pregame plan on how to approach an opposing lineup.
Navarro's impact seems to have been felt in all of those areas. Right fielder Jose Bautista was asked following Wednesday night's victory over the Rays whether a different tone was being set by his ballclub this year, after last season's disappointing early start. Even though the question had nothing to do with catching, that's where Bautista ended up taking it.
"I think it's too early, the sample size is too small so far, but I'll tell you what, I could really get used to the chemistry that I see between our catcher and our pitchers," Bautista said. "If they managed to keep that going for an extended period of time, we're going to have a lot of fun playing this year."
The belief in Navarro doesn't guarantee the Blue Jays pitching staff is going to have a lot of success this season, but it certainly can't hurt.
"Bottom line is the pitcher's got to make the pitch, but if they have confidence in what the catcher is throwing down, that's one of those little things where they have more conviction," manager John Gibbons said.
"Pitchers fight some guys, a lot of that is they may have had a bad game with somebody back there, that sticks with them. You can have two catchers doing the exact same thing but for some reason they get better results with one, it becomes a mental thing."
Janssen throws long toss as rehab continues
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Right-hander Casey Janssen threw long toss on Thursday afternoon for the first time since being placed on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain.
Janssen was temporarily shut down because of the injury on March 29, but resumed throwing early this week. He extended the distance to approximately 120 feet prior to Toronto's series finale against the Rays and likely will have to repeat those exercises for at least a couple of days before receiving clearance to throw off a mound.
There's still no exact timetable for Janssen's return to the Blue Jays, but the club has been hoping he'll be available when the DL stint expires on April 13.
"I want to get comfortable on flat ground, obviously, before I get on a mound and let it rip a little bit," Janssen said. "One, you've got to make sure it's healthy, and two, you've got to mentally trust it."
Janssen will travel with the rest of his teammates late Thursday night in advance of their home opener vs the Yankees. He'll continue the light throwing drills in the coming days and eventually make the transition to pitching off a mound.
Once Toronto's closer passes all of those tests, he'll likely have to go through a rehab assignment. The Blue Jays are still unsure how many appearances Janssen will need to make in the Minor Leagues before returning, and that's one of the main reasons why his exact target date is still unknown.
For the immediate future, Janssen is taking a very cautious approach with his injury. The club doesn't want to risk any setbacks and strength/conditioning coach Chris Joyner is making sure Janssen takes things extra slow.
"It's funny, C.J. said, 'I'm normally the one that says go, go, go, but I'm the one telling you to slow down a little bit,'" Janssen said. "Again, I want to do it once and do it right. As bad as I want to be out there, I don't want to be back on the DL."