Notes: Basepaths open for business

Notes: Basepaths open for business

DETROIT -- Before this season began, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons delivered a message to Vernon Wells. He told the center fielder that the basepaths were open for business.

Stealing bases hasn't been a staple of Toronto baseball in recent years, but that doesn't mean Gibbons isn't willing to give some of his players the option. On Opening Day, Wells and left fielder Reed Johnson took advantage of that freedom and each swiped second base in the first inning, igniting a three-run frame in the process.

"He told me in Spring Training that I had the green light," Wells said. "He trusts us to make good decisions, and I think that's the best thing. Obviously, we don't want to run ourselves into too many outs with the lineup that we have, but we'll pick our spots."

Over the past five seasons, Toronto hasn't ranked higher than eighth in the American League in stolen bases, and its highest season total in that time period was 72 in 2005. The league average since 2001 is 89 swipes per year, but the Jays have averaged just 60.6 stolen bases each year over that span.

"Hey, we've never been opposed to running here," Gibbons said. "It's just, 'Let's see what the situation is.' If we have a good chance to make it, give it a try."

On Monday, Wells -- Toronto's team leader with 17 stolen bases in '06 -- and Johnson saw Detroit right-hander Jeremy Bonderman's exaggerated leg kick and knew they'd have a chance. Behind the plate, though, was 12-time Gold Glove Award-winning catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who led the Majors by throwing out 45.7 percent of baserunners in 2006.

"You try to pick your pitch. If he goes into a high leg kick, then they picked the right one," Gibbons said. "But Pudge, even if a guy's slow to the plate, he's still the equalizer back there."

Rodriguez couldn't slow either runner in the season opener, and that could be a good sign for the Blue Jays. Wells knows that if he can reach second more often this season, that could create better scoring chances with hitters like Frank Thomas, Troy Glaus and Alex Rios batting behind him.

Having Wells, who bats third, successfully steal second forces an opposing pitcher to make a decision. He could intentionally walk Thomas to avoid potentially giving up a home run. If the pitcher does that, though, Glaus, who led Toronto with 38 homers last year, now has two runners on base.

"If you take a base here or there and they put somebody else on, that just gives us another opportunity to score more runs," Wells said. "That's something that we've been able to understand, especially in this lineup. Basically, pass the baton and let the next guy do it if they don't give you a chance."

Change it up: On Monday, Blue Jays starter Roy Halladay said that only five or six pitches of the 104 he threw in six innings against the Tigers were changeups. The right-hander added that he plans on working the pitch in more often as the season progresses.

"I'd like to throw more in the future," Halladay said. "The first time out, the hardest thing is to slow yourself down and just pitch. It always seems to turn out more like you're trying to overpower everything and make everything too good. It's something you have to battle with."

Lineup switch: Toronto's lineup for Wednesday's game versus Detroit included one minor tweak. Second baseman Aaron Hill moved into the No. 7 spot, and catcher Gregg Zaun dropped down to the No. 8 hole. One reason could be that Hill owns an .857 (6-for-7) average with a home run and a double in his career against Tigers starter Nate Robertson.

Nice ring: On Wednesday, the Tigers were presented with their 2006 AL championship rings. Among those on the receiving end was Toronto outfielder Matt Stairs, who was claimed off waivers by the Tigers on Sept. 15, 2006. The native of New Brunswick was ineligible to be on Detroit's postseason roster last season, but he hit .244 with two home runs and eight RBIs in 14 games. The Jays signed him to a one-year deal this past winter.

Not to worry: Zaun was spotted walking around with an ice pack on his left shoulder on Monday and Tuesday. The catcher said he's been dealing with some stiffness near his neck, but said it wasn't anything serious -- evidenced by his inclusion in the starting lineup.

Numbers game: During Spring Training, infielder Jason Smith wore No. 68 as he competed for a spot on Toronto's roster. Now with the Major League club, Smith has switched to wearing No. 4.

Did you know? Monday's 10-inning win over Detroit marked Toronto's third extra-inning Opening Day contest in club history. The Blue Jays have a 1-2 record in those games.

Coming up: Toronto left-hander Gustavo Chacin is scheduled to take on Detroit righty Justin Verlander when the Blue Jays face the Tigers in the finale of a three-game set at 1:05 p.m. ET on Thursday at Comerica Park.

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