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Notes: Zambrano confident

Notes: Zambrano confident

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- J.P. Ricciardi had seen enough. After pitcher Victor Zambrano completed his sixth inning of work against the Indians on Friday afternoon, the Blue Jays' general manager got up from his seat behind home plate and bolted for the exit at Chain of Lakes Park.

One day earlier, Ricciardi said the fifth spot in the Blue Jays' rotation might fall to Zambrano if the pitcher could last at least five innings versus Cleveland. The right-hander exceeded that goal, but Ricciardi wanted to discuss the situation with Toronto manager John Gibbons before making a final decision.

"I've got no comment," said Ricciardi, as he quickly exited Cleveland's Spring Training stadium with his assistants. "We're going back to talk to Gibby."

Toronto has narrowed the race for the fifth starting job down to Zambrano and right-hander Josh Towers. Ricciardi has indicated that both pitchers -- neither of whom are currently on the 40-man roster -- will be with the team beyond Spring Training. One will be in the rotation, and the other will be moved to the bullpen.

On Friday, Zambrano allowed two runs on two hits over six innings -- his longest outing of the spring. The 31-year-old had four strikeouts, but he also walked four, hit one batter, and had a wild pitch. Zambrano threw 90 pitches, including 51 strikes.

"I have a lot of confidence," said Zambrano, who added that he felt strong enough to pitch another inning. "To finish this game today was very important. After today -- whatever decision they make -- I'll be with the team and I'll help the team. I know I can be one of the starters."

Entering Spring Training, Zambrano wasn't even considered to be in the running for a rotation job. The Jays signed him to a Minor League deal because he's 10 months removed from elbow ligament replacement surgery -- the second time he's had the operation in his career.

Toronto originally believed Zambrano would be healthy and available by May or June at the earliest. This spring, though, Zambrano has experienced a rapid recovery, posting a 2.29 ERA with 14 strikeouts and 10 walks in 19 2/3 innings over six appearances.

"I just came into the spring to do my job -- to be healthy," Zambrano said. "That's most important for me. I appreciate the opportunity that the organization has given to me."

Towers, who went 2-10 with an 8.42 ERA in 2006, will make his final start of the spring on Saturday. He's also pitched well this spring, but Ricciardi said the pitcher would be on "a short leash" if he made the rotation.

Frasor welcomes role: Gibbons has given his vote of confidence to right-hander Jason Frasor for the Jays' eighth-inning setup job. Toronto's manager hasn't actually informed the reliever, but that's fine with Frasor.

"I wasn't told anything, but that's probably the way I like it," Frasor said after turning in a scoreless inning of relief on Friday. "I'll just prepare myself for when that [bullpen] phone rings."

Entering the spring, the Jays believed Brandon League would fill the eighth-inning role. That was until he struggled with an injury and mechanical issues that significantly reduced the velocity on his pitches. The Jays optioned League to Triple-A Syracuse, and Frasor (17 saves in 2004) became the most experienced option.

"Until [League] got sent down, I always thought he'd be ready," Frasor said. "When he's healthy, he's a star in the making. ... I'm honored. That's the eighth inning. That's a big-time inning. My job is to get the ball to [closer B.J. Ryan], and if B.J. gets the ball, we're winning -- that's the whole point."

Decisions: The final roster decision appears to be whether right-hander Jeremy Accardo or Francisco Rosario will fill the final spot in the bullpen. Rosario is out of options, and he would have to clear waivers if Toronto wanted to send him to the Minors. The Jays have had a few trade proposals for the pitcher, but nothing "on the front burner," according to Ricciardi.

The Blue Jays currently have 38 players on their 40-man roster. Another spot will be cleared when left-hander Davis Romero (torn left labrum) is placed on the 60-day disabled list. The three open slots will most likely be filled by Zambrano, Towers and outfielder Matt Stairs.

Smith could start some: The Blue Jays plan on using utility man Jason Smith as a backup at third base, shortstop, second base and, sparingly, in the outfield. Ricciardi said Thursday that the left-handed-hitting Smith, who was picked up by the Jays in December's Rule 5 Draft, could start occasionally against right-handers.

"We've got some different ways to come at you, as far as the shortstop position," said Ricciardi, who added veteran shortstop Royce Clayton this past offseason to be Toronto's primary starter. "If we decide that they're throwing a tough right-hander, we can play Smith a little bit."

Final tuneup: Jays right-hander Tomo Ohka, who is set to be Toronto's fourth starter, pitched in a Triple-A game on Friday. Ohka allowed six runs on nine hits in 5 2/3 innings. He threw 103 pitches and had four walks and two strikeouts. Ohka is penciled in to start on April 6 on the road against Tampa Bay.

Toothache: Gibbons missed his second game in a row after having his wisdom teeth removed Thursday morning. Gibbons stayed in Dunedin, Fla., and will likely rejoin the Blue Jays for their final spring game on Saturday.

Quotable: "I was a little too quick to the plate and I missed the location. I'm sorry for him; hopefully nothing happened." --Zambrano, on an errant pitch that struck Cleveland shortstop Jhonny Peralta in the head

Coming up: Towers (1-0, 3.20 ERA) will take the mound when the Blue Jays host the Reds at 1:05 p.m. ET on Saturday at Knology Park for Toronto's final Grapefruit League contest. On Sunday, the Jays will head to Detroit for an afternoon workout in preparation for its season opener on Monday.

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

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