Who will become the Blue Jays' fifth starter when they need an extra arm later this week?
-- Chris B., Toronto
The leading candidates to become the Blue Jays' No. 5 starter are young right-handers Joel Carreno and Drew Hutchison. Left-handers Aaron Laffey and Brett Cecil are also in the mix, but they are likely long shots considering their slow start to the 2012 campaign.
The Blue Jays have only needed a fifth starter once this season, and won't require another one until Saturday. The amount of off-days built into Toronto's schedule allowed the club to go with a four-man rotation that included Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Henderson Alvarez and Kyle Drabek.
Carreno got one start for the Blue Jays in the first week of the season and allowed four runs in six innings in Cleveland. He projects more as a reliever in the future, but could buy Toronto some more time as a stopgap solution until Hutchison is ready to make his Major League debut.
Hutchison, who is ranked as the club's No. 7 prospect, according to MLB.com, has allowed just two earned runs in 11 innings this season for Double-A New Hampshire. He will receive strong consideration for the upcoming start, but even if he's deemed not ready, the promising hurler will make an impact at some point this season in Toronto.
What, if anything, can the Blue Jays do to solidify their bullpen, which hasn't been up to par the past two years?
-- Rich M., Toronto
The short answer is nothing. The long answer is that the Blue Jays don't need to do anything to rectify the bullpen, because even with a rough week to start the year, the relievers are still a major strength for this team.
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Toronto began the season with a pair of extra-inning affairs that resulted in 28 innings being played in just two games. That created a heavy workload, and early-season fatigue may have been a slight factor in the disappointing opening week.
All that being said, the Blue Jays still have one of the deepest bullpens in baseball. Sergio Santos, who blew his first two save opportunities, bounced back on Wednesday for save No. 1, and his fastball-slider combination should provide plenty of problems for opposing hitters this season.
The rest of the bullpen -- which includes Francisco Cordero, Darren Oliver, Casey Janssen, Jason Frasor, Luis Perez and Carlos Villanueva -- will provide manager John Farrell with plenty of options. This isn't the same group that tied for the American League lead in blown saves last season with 25.
I know that David Cooper is having early-season success with Las Vegas, but I don't see much chance of him getting promoted because of the Blue Jays' multiple first-base options on their roster. Do you see much of a future for Cooper in Toronto?
-- Greg T., Newmarket, Ontario
To a certain extent, Cooper is stuck in no-man's land right now. Cooper doesn't have anything left to prove at Triple-A Las Vegas, but he also doesn't have a clear path to the Major Leagues.
Cooper is the reigning batting champion in the Pacific Coast League following a season in which he hit .364 with 96 RBIs in 129 games. But the knock on him always has been about a lack of power, as he recorded just nine homers in the hitter-friendly league. That doesn't translate well to playing every day at first base in the Majors, and he'll need to develop more natural strength to make the next step.
But Toronto doesn't have much more room for Cooper to grow. Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion are firmly entrenched as the club's first-base/designated-hitter combination. Cooper would need an injury to either of those players to make a return to the big leagues. Otherwise, he likely will become trade bait later in the year.
I watched a few Spring Training games this year and was very impressed with Yan Gomes' play and versatility. Can you give us some background on him?
-- Trevor M., Winnipeg, Manitoba
Gomes was selected by the Blue Jays as a catcher in the 10th round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. He advanced rather quickly through the lower levels of the Minor Leagues before reaching Double-A New Hampshire by the start of the 2011 season.
The problem Gomes has always had while trying to establish himself is that the Blue Jays have a lot of depth at the catching position in the Minor Leagues. Travis d'Arnaud, A.J. Jimenez and Carlos Perez all rank among the club's best prospects, which doesn't leave much of an opening for Gomes.
That's why Toronto began experimenting with Gomes at different positions in Spring Training. He spent some time at first base, third and catcher as the organization explores the possibility of turning him into a super-utility type of player. Gomes could arrive in the Majors by the end of the season, but it will be in a bench role, as he does not currently project to be a starter.
For Minor Leaguers in short season (Vancouver, GCL and such), what do they do between the end of Spring Training and the beginning of their season in June?
-- Rob M., Stratford, Ontario
The Minor Leaguers that are assigned to teams in short-season leagues continue working out at the Blue Jays' Minor League complex in Dunedin, Fla., at extended spring camp. They are joined by players currently on rehab assignments, such as right-handers Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litsch.
Extended spring is essentially the same thing as Major League Spring Training. The players participate in drills, take part in intrasquad games and exhibition contests to get ready for the start of their season.
Why is Ben Francisco on this team? He's only played in two games so far this season and doesn't seem to have much of a role with Rajai Davis there as a fourth outfielder.
-- Frank B., Barrie, Ontario
Francisco has played in at least 80 games each of the past two seasons, but doesn't appear to be on a similar path this season in Toronto. The veteran outfielder provides the Blue Jays with an additional right-handed bat off the bench, but won't see much action with right-handed pitchers on the mound.
The 30-year-old Francisco has received just two starts in the first nine games of the season. Both came against lefties, and that likely will be his role this season as he ranks not only behind the Blue Jays' starting trio of Eric Thames, Colby Rasmus and Jose Bautista, but also Davis in a reserve spot.
Most AL teams carry only four outfielders, but Farrell has gone with five because he likes the way it sets up his bench. Toronto has four lefties in its starting nine, and the three strictly right-handed bats off the bench enable flexibility for particular matchups.
Why did Pat Hentgen leave as bullpen coach? Did it have anything to do with the bullpen's poor performance last season?
-- Alicia B., Halifax, Nova Scotia
Hentgen's decision to step away from the team after last season didn't have anything to do with the bullpen's poor showing in 2011. He made the decision to leave for at least one season because of family reasons, but that doesn't mean the former AL Cy Young Award winner has separated himself from the team.
Hentgen spent some time in Spring Training working with the organization's pitching staff, and he also will occasionally appear as a commentator on Rogers Sportsnet for Blue Jays games this season.