Notes: Towers gaining confidence

Notes: Towers gaining confidence

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has described Josh Towers' performance last season as an aberration. This spring, Towers has made it his goal to prove that's exactly the case.

A little more than three weeks into Spring Training, Towers has started to convince Toronto that he's over his tumultuous 2006 campaign. On Saturday, Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg leaned against a railing inside the visitors' dugout at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex, discussing the strides the pitcher has already made.

"He's like a different kid than I saw last year," Arnsberg said. "The total spectrum of Josh has gotten a lot better. He's not as hard on himself, and he understands that he's going to make bad pitches and make a lot of good pitches."

Towers, who went 2-10 with an 8.42 ERA last season, made few mistakes in his second start of the spring -- a tidy three-inning performance against Atlanta. The 30-year-old right-hander struck out two and gave up two singles.

It was an efficient outing, too. Towers threw 27 pitches, including 18 strikes, before moving to the bullpen, where he worked in another 20 throws. Through two trips to the mound, Towers has a 1.80 ERA, and he's starting to feel more and more like the pitcher who led the Jays with 13 victories in 2005.

"If I'm not back, I'm damn close," Towers said. "I'm really high in confidence right now. I'm having fun. That's the most important part. Last year, I forgot that part of the game. I'm on cloud nine with the way I'm throwing."

At this point in the spring season, most starting pitchers are working on specific aspects of their game during their starts. That's not the case right now for Towers, who's competing against a handful of pitchers for a spot in Toronto's rotation. Towers said he's striving for strong results, even in the first handful of outings.

So far, Towers is off to a hot start, and the Blue Jays will have a tough decision on their hands if he keeps up the pace. Towers, who is under contract for $2.9 million this year, is starting to remind the Blue Jays of the pitcher who helped carry their depleted rotation in '05.

He still has a long way to go before he can completely convince the club that one of its rotation jobs belongs to him, though.

"Josh is one of those guys who, year in and year out, he's had to prove himself," Gibbons said. "He's got to pitch with that chip on his shoulder, and he has to have that edge. That's important for him, and I see that again."

The road back: The Blue Jays still aren't sure if reliever Brandon League will be able to break camp with the big-league club. His recent bullpen sessions have gone well, though, and he's tentatively slated to pitch in a Minor League game on March 17.

League, who entered camp as the leading candidate for Toronto's setup role, has been battling back from a strained right lat muscle. The 23-year-old right-hander has thrown fastballs off a mound three times -- most recently at 90-95 percent effort on Friday.

Arnsberg said the plan is for League to add his breaking ball and split-finger fastball in a fourth bullpen session on Sunday. Then, League will throw 30 pitches during batting practice on Wednesday before working into the Minor League game. After that, he can begin pitching in Grapefruit League contests.

"Before I put him in a game, I would definitely want him to have his full arsenal ready," Arnsberg said. "If he's not getting to throw his split at that time, that's not a big deal. But I don't like putting guys on the mound when they're just fastball, fastball, fastball."

Arnsberg said he still wasn't sure if League would be able to make up the time he's lost over the past three weeks. If he didn't make the Opening Day roster, though, Arnsberg didn't anticipate it being long before the young pitcher rejoined Toronto's bullpen.

"I'd hate to say, 'Oh, yeah, he can catch up,'" Arnsberg said. "But, just guessing, I wouldn't think it's going to be an extended stay in the Minor Leagues."

Small ball: On Saturday, Gibbons gave his pitchers one order: Don't swing. The message came after Braves starter Mike Hampton injured an oblique muscle recently during batting practice.

That didn't stop Towers from laying down a nice bunt in the third inning against Atlanta starter Mark Redman. Towers sent the ball skipping down the first-base line, and he reached second base on a throwing error by Redman.

"Gibby came up to me and said, 'I don't want you to swing at all because of what happened to Hampton the other day,'" Towers said. "He didn't want to risk any injuries. I think he gave me the option to bunt, so I laid it down."

"I'll tell you what, I got to second base and I was a little exhausted," he added with a laugh.

Not to be outdone, Jays outfielder Jeff Duncan followed Towers by squaring around on another pitch from Redman. Braves third baseman Chipper Jones let the ball roll down the third-base line to see if it'd cross into foul territory, but it traveled the distance and bounced off the base for a single.

Hot bat: Toronto infielder Jason Smith, who was acquired in the Rule 5 Draft in December, has had a good week at the plate. In his last four games, Smith has hit .750 (6-for-8) with two home runs and two RBIs. For the spring, Smith is batting .467.

Quotable: "Like they say, desperate times call for desperate measures. I think that's the kind of offseason Josh found himself in. He felt that he's in desperate times. He doesn't want to get sent to Triple-A, or get claimed off waivers and go pitch for somebody else." -- Arnsberg, on Towers

Coming up: Toronto right-hander Roy Halladay is scheduled to make his third start of the spring on Sunday, when the Blue Jays host the Twins at 1:05 p.m. ET at Knology Park in Dunedin, Fla.

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