DUNEDIN, Florida – It's time to play ball.
A week's worth of batting practice, infield work, outfield cutoff drills, pitchers' bullpen sessions and defence are in the books and manager John Gibbons is ready for game action.
"Yeah, I mean you get tired of (the drills) but you've got to do it," said Gibbons. "They're all in shape, they're ready to go and we'll see where we're at when we play these games."
The Blue Jays open their 34-game Grapefruit League schedule on Saturday in Lakeland, taking on the defending American League champion Detroit Tigers. Brandon Morrow (10-7, 2.96 ERA in 2012) gets the start for Toronto and will pitch only the first inning. Morrow, 28, is following the same plan he did last spring.
"(I'm treating it) not that there's nobody in the (batter's) box but not necessarily pitching the way I would try to get (hitters) out during the season," said Morrow. "You know, we're still working on stuff, trying to command those third and fourth pitches, trying to get the feel back for those."
Look for Morrow to throw a number of curveballs and changeups, the complementary pitches to his powerful fastball and slider. The University of California product missed more than two months of action last season due to an oblique strain, a "freak" injury as he puts it. In his eight post-injury starts from late August to the end of the season, Morrow posted a 2.87 ERA.
Steve Delabar will also throw an inning against the Tigers.
"Other than getting everybody out," Delabar joked when asked what his main goal is for the outing. "Just keeping my fastball down (in the strike zone) and locating and letting everything else work off of that."
Adam Lind, looking to work his way into regular playing time when the real games begin on April 2, will make the trip to Lakeland. So will Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis, who are battling for the starting job at second base.
Right-hander Anibal Sanchez (9-13, 3.86 ERA with Miami and Detroit in 2012) will start for the Tigers, who are expected to play a majority of their big league position players in the game's early innings.
Before the games begin, there was some business to deal with as Blue Jays players got their first random visit of the year from Major League Baseball-sanctioned drug testers on Friday.
The league's policy has changed for the 2013 season to include tests for Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and the use of synthetic testosterone. Urine samples were taken on Friday but there were no blood tests.
MLB is using the Montreal-based Armand-Frappier Laboratory, a World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited facility, to test urine and blood samples and keep files on players.
- The Blue Jays launched their minor league mini camp on Friday. It's being run at the Bobby Mattick Training Facility at Englebert Complex, about a 10-minute drive from Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.
2012 first round selections, outfielder D.J. Davis (17th overall) and pitcher Marcus Stroman (22nd) are among the 37 players in attendance.
- Luis Rivera replaces Brian Butterfield as the Blue Jays new third base coach. He last performed the role in 2010 when he managed Toronto's Double-A affiliate in New Hampshire. The last two seasons, Rivera was a coaching assistant who would sit behind home plate for games, offering a unique perspective in pre-series and pre-game scouting meetings. It's a role he feels will benefit him in his new position.
"I have a good idea who can throw and who cannot throw," said Rivera of American League outfielders, an important component in determining whether to send a runner home as he rounds the bases. He appreciates the increased emphasis on team speed achieved through general manager Alex Anthopoulos' off-season moves.
"I know they can run. I know they're good baserunners and they're fast. That probably will make my job a little easier knowing that you can, with those guys, push them and they can score on balls that others can't score on."
- Manager John Gibbons wasn't aware of Jose Reyes' musical talents. The shortstop is a reggae artist in his spare time and Gibbons is keeping an open mind.
"Yeah (I like it) but I'm probably not going to go out and buy it," joked Gibbons, a native of San Antonio, Texas. "I like country and western, southern rock."