DUNEDIN, Florida - Ask John Gibbons about his plans for the Blue Jays' running attack and after he offers some detail, he reminds you it's a team's power and big hits that more often win games.
Fair enough. Gibbons' track record backs his words; but he didn't have a cadre of base stealers during his first go-around in Toronto. Times have changed.
"They'll have the green light," said Gibbons. "There might be a time when we want them to hold, stop, not go anywhere. You know, depending on who's on the mound."
It also depends on the situation. Here's a scenario, laid out by Gibbons, in which Jose Reyes may be forbidden from stealing: Reyes is on first base; Jose Bautista is at the plate and has been hitting well; Edwin Encarnacion is on deck and has been slumping. If Reyes steals second, first base is open and Bautista likely gets intentionally walked. Don't take the bat out of your best hitter's, and a hot hitter's, hands.
Bautista is happy for the speedsters to run at any time; in fact he welcomes the newfound speed at the top of the lineup.
"I don't think it changes (our) strategy (from years past) other than they're going to be trying to steal to get in scoring position because they have that ability as opposed to guys in the past who weren't really base stealers," said Bautista. "It's going to be easier for me to drive them in because they're going to be closer to the plate."
Contrast the numbers and it's apparent Gibbons' strategy must change simply due to the makeup of his lineup.
Six Blue Jays – Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Melky Cabrera, Rajai Davis, Brett Lawrie, Maicer Izturis – stole 146 bases combined last season. Consider, too, it's a number that would have been higher had Lawrie (125 games) and Bonifacio (64 games) not had injury-shortened years.
The Blue Jays stole 194 total bases in Gibbons' three full seasons as manager during his first tenure (2005-2007.) Just 48 more, in essentially three times the games, than six of his players amassed in 2012 alone. Nobody had more than 17 in a season – Vernon Wells in 2006, Alex Rios in 2007.
Speed on the bases changes a pitcher's approach; it alters defensive alignments. Chances are Bautista and Encarnacion see more favourable pitches when Reyes and Cabrera get on in front of them.
"There are certain catchers out there who don't want to be embarrassed so they'll just keep pumping them fastballs," said Gibbons, a catcher in his playing days. "We tell our guys, you throw the pitch and we've got to get the hitter out, too. But (catchers) fall in to that rut, they want the chance to throw the (runner) out so they're probably a little more aggressive than normal and generally (the hitters) do see more fastballs."
"Not only because they can steal bases but because they're bunt threats," said Bautista. "The defence is going to be well aware of that and that is going to create holes in the other team's defence. Hopefully they can exploit those holes when they put balls in play and use their legs to their advantage to create situations where then we can take advantage afterwards, when they're on base and we can drive them in."
Bautista sees this Blue Jays squad as having the best blend of speed and power since he arrived in Toronto and feels the former will cover for the latter when it's lacking.
"Because we have a good mix, I think we're going to have better consistency because, you know, bats go through ups and downs, you have your hot and cold periods, and in those cold periods, these guys are going to be able to create a lot of stuff for us with their legs," said Bautista.
"That's a great weapon to have for a club."
- The Blue Jays waxed the Yankees 17-5 Wednesday at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Toronto batted around in each of the first two innings, scoring 15 runs on eight hits as Yankees' pitchers Jose Ramirez and Adam Warren walked nine. Josh Johnson threw 58 pitches in his three-inning outing. The six-foot-seven right-hander struck out five, allowing only a Kevin Youkilis home run to cross. Of greater importance, Johnson struck out five to bring his spring total to 13. In 10.2 innings of Grapefruit League play, Johnson has yet to walk a batter. Brett Cecil threw 2.2 innings of shutout ball, striking out three.
- Sergio Santos (triceps) reported no pain Thursday morning following his one-inning appearance in a Triple-A game on Wednesday. He's on target to pitch on Saturday when the Blue Jays host Baltimore. Will Santos be ready for opening day? "If opening day was next week I feel like I would be ready," said Santos. "From my standpoint, the way I see it now, I feel like I'm 100 per cent moving on from here." Santos, 29, underwent shoulder surgery last summer. He experienced pain in his triceps after his last Grapefruit League outing, March 3. Santos underwent an MRI, which revealed mild inflammation.
- Casey Janssen (shoulder) threw live batting practice on Thursday morning. "I felt all right," said Janssen. "Good to get out there, good to compete. I'm still by no means a finished product but it's another step in the right direction. It was nice to face some hitters and pick up the intensity again." Janssen, 31, can't yet predict whether he'll be ready for Opening Day. Manager John Gibbons has said if Janssen isn't capable of pitching on back-to-back days by the time the Blue Jays break camp, he'll be held back until he's ready to do so.
- So how does the bullpen shape up?
Here's what we know: Santos, Janssen, Darren Oliver, Esmil Rogers and Steve Delabar will make the team. Left-hander Aaron Loup (1.50 ERA in six Grapefruit League innings) has impressed manager John Gibbons. Brett Cecil or J.A. Happ has the inside track on the long role and it's likely Happ will begin the season as a starter at Triple-A Buffalo. Jeremy Jeffress is another candidate. If Janssen isn't ready to start the season, Cecil essentially is a lock and the door opens, perhaps only briefly, for someone like Jeffress. Got all that?
- The Blue Jays make their third and final visit of the spring to Lakeland, Thursday, to play the Tigers. Ricky Romero (0-0, 6.35 ERA in three Grapefruit League appearances) gets the start and will be on a 60-pitch limit. Right-hander Rick Porcello (2-1, 2.08) will pitch for Detroit.