Ryan to make debut Saturday

Ryan to make debut Saturday

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- B.J. Ryan is moving along swiftly in his return to the mound. The closer has been progressing so well, in fact, that the Blue Jays have scrapped plans to wait until at least mid-March before using Ryan in a Grapefruit League game.

After Ryan breezed through a successful simulated game on Wednesday, Toronto pitching coach Brad Arnsberg said the new plan calls for the left-hander to make his first Spring Training appearance on Saturday. That's a roughly a week ahead of schedule for Ryan, who had major reconstructive surgery on his left elbow last May.

"It feels stronger, and I feel like I can do more with it," said Ryan, referring to his throwing arm. "I still try not to do too much, too fast, but on the other hand, I need to get ready to get out there and pitch in some games. Now is not the time to really be holding back a lot."

In the simulated game, Ryan threw 18 pitches against a cast of Toronto's Minor Leaguers at the Bobby Mattick Training Center. Ryan noted that the location with his fastball and slider improved as he got deeper into the outing, and added that he felt more comfortable with his mechanics than during his last two outings, which came in batting-practice sessions.

Right now, Ryan is focusing on repeating his delivery and maintaining his three-quarter arm slot. Ryan loosened up in the bullpen prior to Wednesday's brief appearance, in which he struck out two and allowed two hits, but said that he might have benefited from throwing more warmup pitches.

"Maybe I need to spend a little bit more time in the bullpen," Ryan said. "I probably should've done a little more than I did, but I was kind of antsy -- ready to get out there and face some hitters, work some counts and make some pitches."

If Ryan reports no lingering pain on Thursday, his outing on Saturday will mark the pitcher's first game appearance since April 14, 2007, when he walked off the mound inside Rogers Centre in Toronto with the elbow injury. On May 10, Ryan -- signed to a five-year, $47 million deal by the Jays in November 2005 -- underwent Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery.

Ryan is aiming to return from the operation in less than a full year in order to break camp as a member of Toronto's Opening Day roster. Even if his spring schedule doesn't allow for consecutive game appearances, Ryan is confident that the work he's put in and the plan going forward will be sufficient in preparing him for the season.

"Seven or eight appearances is plenty, because I've done a lot of mound work," Ryan said. "I don't even know if [I'll pitch in back-to-back games this spring]. That's just something else we're going to talk about down the line. Right now, today was a good day, and I'm going to get my work in [Thursday] and go from there."

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