Notes: Jays coping with injury bug

Notes: Blue Jays coping with injury bug

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Toronto's roster situation heading into Opening Day got a little more complicated on Tuesday when Scott Downs limped off the mound and dropped to a knee on the infield grass.

Downs is slated to step in as the temporary fifth starter in the first week of the season so A.J. Burnett can continue his steady recovery from an elbow injury. That scenario probably won't change, given the fact that Downs' setback in his start against the Twins was a minor one -- a case of patellar tendinitis in the right knee that shouldn't keep him out very long.

What the incident did do was give the Blue Jays plenty of reason to carry an extra pitcher in the beginning of the year while Burnett sits on the 15-day disabled list. Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi said that's exactly what the team would do, but that he wasn't making any formal announcement on who the candidate might be.

"We have a pretty good idea who we're going to bring north with us," Ricciardi said. "[The decision] is already made."

While Ricciardi knows who the extra arm will be, the player he has in mind hasn't been told. Ricciardi said that the official word will probably be made later this week -- perhaps by Friday or Saturday.

Toronto's most likely options on the 40-man roster include Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan or Brandon League. All three have the ability to work in the bullpen and Marcum and McGowan can also start, if needed.

The other possible non-roster candidates would probably be Brian Tallet or James Baldwin. Tallet has had a good spring, but the team would have to make a move on the roster for the left-hander to join the big-league team. The same goes for Baldwin, who was returned to Minor League camp after Tuesday's game.

"It'll definitely be a pitcher," Toronto manager John Gibbons said, referring to the open roster spot. "We've got a lot of options."

After pitching two scoreless innings, Downs took the mound before the third and began to warm up. The southpaw limped off and around the hill after a few pitches and then dropped to a knee.

Toronto pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, assistant trainer Dave Abraham and Gibbons went out and talked with Downs, who opted to come out of the game.

Downs walked back to the clubhouse on his own and said he experienced some irritation in his right knee, which was caused by strain on his patella tendon. Ricciardi said that he spoke with Dr. Steve Mirabello, the team doctor in Dunedin, and the injury is minor and it shouldn't stop Downs from making his scheduled start in the first week of April.

The left-hander will undergo an MRI, but the team doesn't expect anything major to show up.

"Downs is going to be fine," Ricciardi said. "We'll see tomorrow how he feels. He may have a little swelling in there. We'll know a little bit more after the MRI, but he shouldn't have a problem jumping right back in."

Ricciardi said that Downs might make an appearance in Friday's exhibition game against Triple-A Syracuse at Knology Park and that the lefty could also get some innings in a Minor League game at the Bobby Mattick Training Center this week.

Downs is 1-1 with a 5.00 ERA in five outings this spring -- including three starts -- after his brief appearance versus the Twins. He was 4-3 with a 4.31 ERA in 26 games for the Jays in 2005.

More issues: The roster complications go beyond just the pitchers. The 25-man roster needs to be set by Saturday and Toronto has a couple of other players who have nagging injuries.

Gregg Zaun, who hasn't played in a Spring Training game since March 16, took part in defensive drills on Tuesday, but Gibbons said that the catcher's pulled right calf will keep him out for the rest of the spring. The injury could also land Zaun on the disabled list to start the year.

"I don't know what's going to happen with Zaunie," Gibbons said. "It's not looking good right now. If it's something that drags on, he may have to go on the DL. We'll see."

Zaun has been able to throw and hit, but he has lingering pain in his calf when he attempts to run.

If Zaun does land on the DL, catcher Guillermo Quiroz, who is on the 40-man roster, or Jason Phillips could be his temporary replacement. Quiroz is out of options and would still have to clear waivers if he was sent down to the Minors when Zaun returned. Phillips signed a Minor League deal with the Jays and his contract would have to purchased, and a spot would have to be cleared, in order for him to be placed on the 25-man roster.

Infielder John McDonald is nursing a sore back, but his injury might not be as problematic. Unlike Zaun, Gibbons plans on having McDonald play in a game before the rosters have to be set. Gibbons said McDonald would be reevaluated after that. McDonald's lower back "locked up," according to the infielder, some time during the team's road trip to Fort Myers, Fla., on Saturday.

Burnett watch: Burnett threw off a mound for the first time since injuring his right elbow on March 18. The right-hander threw 55 pitches at around 80 percent and worked on his fastball, curveball and changeup.

Burnett will take a day off, then will throw in another bullpen session on Thursday. He'll rest on Friday and is scheduled to pitch around three innings against Syracuse in Saturday's exhibition game.

"Obviously, there's a step before [pitching on Saturday]," Burnett said. "Baby steps. I'm not going to go out and pitch if I'm not ready. The good thing is it's only been a handful of days [since the injury], so I shouldn't be that far behind."

Quotable: "Preferably a righty or a lefty." --Ricciardi, on which pitcher might be called up

Coming up: Toronto right-hander Roy Halladay will face Philadelphia righty Jon Lieber when the Blue Jays play the Phillies at 1:05 p.m. ET on Wednesday at Knology Park. Halladay is 2-2 with a 1.38 ERA in four starts this spring.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.