DUNEDIN, Florida - We'll know within a week whether R.A. Dickey and J.P. Arencibia will form the Blue Jays' battery on opening night.
"I've felt good with him," said Arencibia, referring not only to bullpen sessions and Grapefruit League play with the knuckleballer but also to their just-completed stint at the World Baseball Classic. "I was able to catch him well and it's something that I am comfortable with."
Dickey says publicly he doesn't care who catches him. Dickey says he believes in any of Arencibia, Henry Blanco and Josh Thole. Dickey does, however, want to be pitching to whoever it is who will catch him for the remainder of spring training.
"It would be nice to work with the guy that I'm going to work for the next couple of outings," said Dickey. "I'm open to whatever (manager) John (Gibbons) wants to do but at the same time it's always better because you can get a bit of a rapport going and you can feel each other out. If it's Josh or Henry it won't matter because I have a lot of experience (with them) but if it's J.P., the more the better."
So the whirlwind continues. Dickey and Arencibia drive cross-state Saturday morning, from Miami to Dunedin, and go straight to Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Dickey gets back to acclimatizing himself to a new team. Arencibia returns to deal with the same "Can you catch Dickey" question he left behind upon his departure for Arizona two weeks ago. The April 2 opener with the Cleveland Indians is drawing nearer.
Jose Reyes and Edwin Encarnacion are the only major league Blue Jays who remain at the WBC – the Dominican Republic plays the Netherlands in a semifinal on Monday – and so slowly, albeit slower than the Blue Jays would like, the newly formed band is getting back together.
The WBC, for its youthful warts and imperfections, is leaving an impression on its participants. Dickey suggested the American team let down its country, even though games were attended predominantly by fans of the USA's opponent.
"Some people write about it as an exhibition and it's much more than that," said Dickey. "It means quite a bit to a lot of people, including us and so it was heartbreaking to lose. We wanted to represent our country a little bit better than we did, we were unable to do that and so it hurts."
Arencibia, who unlike Dickey has most of his career ahead of him, talked as often as he could with US pitching coach Greg Maddux and quietly watched his veteran teammates closely.
"You get to try to take as much as you can away," said Arencibia. "You see the professionalism, you see the maturity in some of these guys who've been doing it for a long time. They're superstars for a reason and you see the way they go about the work. You just try to pick their brains as much as possible. All the guys were great, not just great players but good people and it made it a fun time."
Dickey was better in his second WBC start than his first, his only blemish in five innings against the Dominican Republic a Hanley Ramirez solo home run. The Dominicans ultimately won the game 3-1 but for Dickey, it's the improvement from game to game which pleases him most.
"The first game your heart wants to step on the gas but your body just can't really do it yet," said Dickey. "That was only my third outing since October 2 so as much as I wanted it to be midseason form my body just didn't cooperate necessarily. But every two or three days I get a little bit stronger and a little bit stronger and the last game was a little bit more indicative of how I'll be performing on a normal basis. Hopefully I'll grow even more before the first of the year."
We should know on Sunday when Dickey will make his next spring start. In recent years, Dickey says he's felt opening day-ready about 10 days before the Mets broke camp. Depending on how manager John Gibbons lays out the schedule, Dickey has two or three outings remaining.
As for the status of Dickey's knuckleball, the battery can speak to the matter. The catcher first: "It was pretty special," said Arencibia of Dickey's knuckleball on Thursday. "I think in the warm ups I had a tough time catching him and that's when I knew it was going to be pretty good. It was a little darker in the bullpen so right when we got on the field I was able to catch the ball and feel comfortable but it was definitely the most the ball has bounced around when I've ever caught him."
"The good one's there," said Dickey. "Now it's a matter of just repeating it and getting to the place where mechanically I'm able to just repeat it and repeat it. That's the next step, now that I've got my arm strength and I'm able to throw a good, hard knuckleball now it's a matter of repeating the mechanic that can subtract the spin from the ball.
"I feel like we're going to be all right."
- J.A. Happ went 3.2 innings in the Blue Jays 3-1 loss to the Orioles. He allowed two runs on four hits – all doubles – and didn't walk a batter while striking out six.
Still, it's likely that Happ is destined for Triple-A Buffalo to start the season. He isn't happy about the situation.
"He's been around the game for a while, he's not just some young punk that just shows up and doesn't know how the game works," said manager John Gibbons. "We're glad we have him and I'll say it over and over, he's going to help us along the way. He's good."
Happ says he expects to speak to general manager Alex Anthopoulos soon – perhaps sometime next week – about his role with the club. Happ says he "probably" will be the one to initiate the discussion.
- Right-hander Sergio Santos, health permitting the Blue Jays' opening day closer, threw an inning in Saturday's game.
Santos' fastball hit 94 mph; he retired the top of the Orioles' lineup three up, three down.
Results aside, manager John Gibbons is most concerned with his closer being pain free when he wakes up on Sunday morning. It was Santos' first Grapefruit League appearance in 13 days after experiencing inflammation in his triceps.
- The Blue Jays travel to Kissimmee, Sunday, to play the first of back-to-back games against the Astros.
Brandon Morrow (0-1, 3.60 ERA) will make his fourth Grapefruit League start. He'll be on a 75-pitch limit.
Brett Cecil, fighting for a job in the bullpen, also is scheduled to appear.
Right-hander Bud Norris (1-0, 7.27 ERA) will get the ball for the Astros.
Toronto is off on Monday and will host Houston on Tuesday.