Notes: Janssen vying to start

Notes: Janssen vying to start

ST. PETERSBURG -- While the Blue Jays continue to internally debate whether pitcher Casey Janssen is a better fit as a member of their rotation or its bullpen, the only certainty surrounding Janssen is that he has a spot reserved on the Opening Day roster.

On Saturday afternoon, Janssen took the mound at Progress Energy Park for his first game appearance of the spring -- two days after two of his competitors for rotation spots, Jesse Litsch and Gustavo Chacin, made their respective debuts. Janssen is trying hard to maintain the mind-set that he doesn't have a job waiting for him.

"You've still got to compete," Janssen said. "Nothing is guaranteed. You don't take anything for granted, so I'm kind of looking at it like you're trying to make the team. Everybody's trying to make the team. I'm trying to impress everybody -- from management to the staff to everyone."

It's hard to imagine anyone not being impressed with Janssen's first Spring Training performance. The right-hander turned in two innings against the Rays and gave up no runs on two hits with two strikeouts. Janssen peppered the strike zone with a mix of sinkers, changeups and fastballs, totaling 20 pitches, including 15 for strikes.

On Thursday, Litsch and Chacin -- Janssen's counterparts in the race for the rotation's fifth spot -- turned in contrasting outings against the Tigers. Litsch surrendered four runs in two frames and Chacin, returning from a left shoulder injury, pitched one shutout inning. Unlike Janssen, Litsch and Chacin may face a trip to the Minors if they don't win a starting job.

If Brandon League is able to win a job in Toronto's bullpen this spring, Jays manager John Gibbons said that could affect Janssen's role. Last season, Janssen served as Toronto's primary setup man and finished with a 2.35 ERA and 24 holds in 70 games. In 2006, Janssen had mixed results as a rookie in 17 starts for the Blue Jays.

"It's still up in the air what role he's going to fill," said Gibbons, referring to Janssen. "The reason [it's a hard decision] is he was so good at coming out of the bullpen. If he was just an Average Joe out there, it's probably not that tough of a question. But he was one of the better ones in our league doing that job."

At this point, Janssen is simply following orders.

"I'm just kind of doing whatever they tell me," Janssen said. "I'm just going to have fun with it this spring and see what happens. I'm getting stretched out a little bit, and whatever they ask me to do, I'm going to do."

One at a time: Gibbons said that the days of using closer B.J. Ryan for more than one inning are long gone. Ryan, who led the Majors with 13 multi-inning saves in 2006, is attempting to rejoin Toronto's bullpen in time for Opening Day, following Tommy John elbow reconstructive surgery on his left elbow last May.

"He's one of the best closers in baseball," Gibbons said, "but you won't see him coming in the eighth inning again. You won't see any of that. We want to try to definitely stay away from that. Plus, we've got guys we've got confidence in to get that final out of the eighth."

Ryan is scheduled to throw 25-30 pitches in a batting-practice session against Minor League hitters on Sunday morning. Later in the day, the plan is for the left-hander to meet with Dr. Tim Kremcheck -- the surgeon who performed the operation on Ryan's arm -- to go over the pitcher's progress since the procedure.

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After his next throwing session, Ryan will rest for a couple days before pitching in a simulated game. Gibbons wasn't sure if the pitcher's program called for two sim games, but Ryan isn't likely to appear in a Grapefruit League contest with the Blue Jays until mid-March.

Evaluating the arms: Determining how well pitchers are throwing can be a tricky process this early in Spring Training. Many of the hurlers are limiting their arsenal to one or two pitches, focusing on location more than results. Gibbons said command is what he watches for at this stage.

"You want them throwing stikes -- that's the key thing," Gibbons said. "The breaking balls are going to be a little slower to develop, but that will come with time. Commanding that fastball is the big thing."

Gibbons said that he'll turn to his catchers for feedback from time to time, but the manager mainly leans on pitching coach Brad Arnsberg and bullpen coach Bruce Walton for information. Beyond that, Gibbons -- a former catcher -- said he simply trusts what he observes from Toronto's bench.

"I still trust my eyes," he said. "But it's such a different view from the side than seeing it coming on. You might see a little movement, but [the catchers] will tell you if it's late movement or what kind of movement it is."

Out of left field: Left fielders Reed Johnson and Shannon Stewart, who are competing for a spot on Toronto's roster, were both in the starting lineup against the Rays on Saturday. Stewart -- making his first appearance of the spring for the Jays -- went 0-for-2 with a walk. Johnson was hit by a pitch and went 0-for-2 in his other trips to the plate.

Lineup switch: Blue Jays third baseman Scott Rolen was originally penciled in to serve as the designated hitter for Saturday's game against the Rays. Instead, second baseman Aaron Hill headed to St. Petersburg and was in the lineup as the DH. Gibbons said it was nothing more than a day off for Rolen, who will be back in the lineup on Sunday.

Quotable: "Like Dustin today, his pitch is like a bowling ball. When Dustin's on and in the strike zone, he's a tough guy to catch because of that." -- Gibbons, on Jays pitcher Dustin McGowan, who started against the Rays on Saturday

Coming up: Blue Jays right-hander A.J. Burnett is scheduled to make his first start of the spring when Toronto hosts Cincinnati at 12:35 p.m. ET on Sunday at Knology Park in Dunedin, Fla. Right-hander Bronson Arroyo is slated to start for the Reds.

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