Janssen poised to earn rotation spot

Janssen poised to earn rotation spot

The following is the first in a series of four stories this week examining the candidates for the two vacancies at the back end of the Blue Jays' starting rotation. Today, we'll preview one of the front-runners: Casey Janssen.

TORONTO -- An entire season removed from baseball hasn't hurt Casey Janssen's place on the Blue Jays' depth chart. Circumstances have actually pulled the pitcher to the top of the list of arms vying for one of the openings within the club's starting staff.

Now, nearly a year removed from the right shoulder operation that cost him a chance at a job last March, Janssen heads into Spring Training as a favorite to open the season with the Jays. Health would appear to be the only obstacle for Janssen to overcome, though Toronto is confident that part of the process is already in the rearview mirror.

"There's nothing holding him back," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said last week. "He's ready to go."

That being the case, Ricciardi said Janssen would be a top candidate to slide into the rotation behind ace Roy Halladay, Jesse Litsch and David Purcey. Nothing is set in stone, though, especially since Toronto has at least seven pitchers being discussed as possible options for the Nos. 4-5 slots on the staff.

This winter, the Blue Jays lost A.J. Burnett to the Yankees in free agency, complicating Toronto's rotation situation. The Jays are also without Dustin McGowan (right shoulder) until at least May and don't have Shaun Marcum (right elbow) as an option until 2010. Those losses have created what Ricciardi described as "a shootout" for starting roles.

For Janssen, making Toronto's Opening Day roster was precisely what he had in mind last spring. The right-hander was a leading contender for a rotation or bullpen job last March before being sidelined with discomfort in his throwing shoulder. Janssen cut a bullpen session short on March 11 and was forced to go under the knife eight days later.

In California on March 19, Los Angeles-based arm specialist Dr. Lewis Yocum performed a surgery to repair a slight tear in Janssen's arm. Janssen made his way back onto a mound for the first time this winter and has been cleared to prepare for Spring Training like any other pitcher. Barring any setbacks, this spring should help seal a job for Janssen.

Hot Stove

"Obviously, he's got to be healthy," Ricciardi said. "If he's healthy, he'll be able to show us what he's done in the past. But, obviously, when we go in, if he can't take the mound every fifth day or throw his sides, he's not going to be in the mix. But we have no indications that he's going to be anything like that."

Janssen, 27, breezed through the Blue Jays' farm system in three seasons after being selected in the fourth round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft. Before being promoted to Toronto's rotation in 2006, Janssen went 16-5 with a 2.94 ERA over 45 Minor League starts.

With Toronto in '06, Janssen made 17 starts, during which he went 6-10 with a 5.22 ERA. One season later, Janssen enjoyed a strong spring showing, earning a spot in the Jays' bullpen. When closer B.J. Ryan landed on the disabled list early in 2007, Janssen became Toronto's primary setup man and finished with a 2.35 ERA and 24 holds in 70 relief appearances.

At this point, Ricciardi said the club isn't considering putting Janssen in the bullpen again.

"We're going to put him in the rotation right away and let him go there," Ricciardi said. "He's probably better suited to start, although he did a great job out of the 'pen for us. He likes to start -- he wants to start. So, we're going to put him in that role, especially since we have that opportunity this year."

Coming Tuesday: We'll take a look at right-hander Scott Richmond, who is one of the other front-runners for a starting role with Toronto. This spring, Richmond will try to balance pitching for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic with competing for a spot on the Jays' roster.

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