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Gibbons stresses importance of strong start

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Blue Jays' first goal of the season is to avoid the type of slow start the club experienced just one year ago.

Toronto began the 2013 season with lofty expectations, but went just 10-18 during the first month. By the end of April, the Blue Jays found themselves 9 1/2 games back of the first-place Red Sox in the American League East, and it was an uphill battle the rest of the way.

That can't happen again this year if the Blue Jays want to prove the critics wrong and become a contender.

"In our division, you bury yourself early, it's over," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "That's the way it works, it's always been that way and will probably always be that way. So you definitely have to hold your own early, that's for sure."

The task at hand isn't an easy one considering the Blue Jays first seven games of the season come against division rivals Tampa Bay and New York. In fact, Toronto hasn't won a road series against the Rays since April 6-8, 2007.

It's a difficult challenge, but Gibbons also knows how important the first stretch can be and isn't about to shy away from that.

"A big one, but like we've said all along going back to last year, we really like this ballclub and now we'll find out how good we are," Gibbons said. "Last year was a disappointment, but I like the way Spring Training went, I think we're ready to play and now we'll see how good we are."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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