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Five storylines emerging out of Blue Jays camp

MLB.com @gregorMLB

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays are still two days away from the start of their Grapefruit League season, but some important storylines have already emerged out of Spring Training.

All spring performances have to be taken with a grain of salt. Success in these games does not always carry over into the regular season, but it's still important to note who looks good, and who doesn't, during the early stages of 2018.

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays are still two days away from the start of their Grapefruit League season, but some important storylines have already emerged out of Spring Training.

All spring performances have to be taken with a grain of salt. Success in these games does not always carry over into the regular season, but it's still important to note who looks good, and who doesn't, during the early stages of 2018.

Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Gear

Toronto's pitchers and catchers have been working out since Feb. 13, and position players joined them earlier this week. Here are five observations from the first two weeks of camp:

The Sanchize
This year's spring is more important to Aaron Sanchez than anyone else. He attempted to return from blister issues three separate times last season, but every time Sanchez got close the injury resurfaced. So far this spring, it has been a different story. Sanchez has been throwing bullpens without any issues and on Tuesday he completed his first live batting practice.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

So, how has Sanchez looked? Well, just read what people have been saying about him.

"He really looked like midseason form," manager John Gibbons said.

He has been "outstanding," according to pitching coach Pete Walker.

"That was backdoor nasty," commented Russell Martin.

Everyone around the Blue Jays love what they have seen so far and if the blister doesn't pop up again, Sanchez should be in line for a big season.

Video: Sanchez on recovery from his blister injury

Travis ahead of schedule
Another positive development for Toronto has been the early performance of Devon Travis. The 27-year-old spent the offseason rehabbing from last year's knee surgery and only began running a couple of weeks before the start of camp. Since then, he has passed every physical test the Blue Jays have thrown in his direction. Travis has been a full participant in fielding drills and has been showing no lingering effects from the injury while taking ground balls or turning the double play.

The same can't be said about shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who is off to a delayed start this spring because of a bone spur in his right foot. Tulowitzki's status for Opening Day is still somewhat in doubt.

Video: Travis on his injuries, being on a competitive roster

Still adding
The bullpen is the one spot where the Blue Jays are still looking to add. The most likely scenario would see Toronto add a multi-inning swingman who could serve as the long reliever while providing additional protection for the rotation. The biggest benefit from that might be allowing Joe Biagini to continue his development as a starter in the Minors instead of moving him back to the bullpen. Gibbons would like to have Biagini on the roster, but if another proven arm is added to the mix then it's possible Gibbons' opinion will change.

Some names to keep in mind are: Jesse Chavez, Scott Feldman, Francisco Liriano or one-inning options like Tyler Clippard and Seung Hwan Oh.

The perfect PR
Two years ago, Jose Bautista was the talk of baseball because of his outspoken comments regarding free agency. At the time he infamously said: "I don't think there should be any negotiations. I think I've proven myself, and the question has been asked, 'What will it take?' and I've given them an answer."

Josh Donaldson reported to camp in a similar position because he's set to hit the open market at the end of the year. Unlike Bautista, Donaldson has handled the situation almost perfectly. Donaldson spoke openly about a desire to remain with the Blue Jays long term, but remained diplomatic throughout and did not direct any criticism at his bosses. Donaldson insisted that even though negotiations have been put on hold, he still fully expects talks to pick up again at the end of the season.

Video: Donaldson puts contract talks on hold, focuses on '18

Position battles
The only real battle for a job on the 25-man roster is taking place in the bullpen. Toronto has three spots up for grabs after Roberto Osuna, Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes and Aaron Loup. Veterans John Axford and Craig Breslow appear to be the early favorites, with the final spot going to a long reliever. The rest of the roster appears pretty much set, with the possible exception of the infield because of the uncertainty surrounding Tulowitzki. Rookie right-hander Carlos Ramirez will really have to open some eyes during Grapefruit League play to overthrow one of the veteran arms, while the same could be said about lefties Matt Dermody and Tim Mayza. With options remaining on their contracts, early signs point to Ramirez, Dermody and Mayza starting the season at Triple-A Buffalo.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Joe Biagini, Aaron Sanchez

Biagini gets nod in first spring game

MLB.com @gregorMLB

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Right-hander Joe Biagini will get the start when the Blue Jays host the Phillies in their first Grapefruit League game of the year on Friday afternoon at Dunedin Stadium.

Biagini is tenatively scheduled to throw a couple of innings in his first official outing of the year. The 27-year-old currently is not competing for a starting job with the Blue Jays, but he remains a candidate for the bullpen.

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Right-hander Joe Biagini will get the start when the Blue Jays host the Phillies in their first Grapefruit League game of the year on Friday afternoon at Dunedin Stadium.

Biagini is tenatively scheduled to throw a couple of innings in his first official outing of the year. The 27-year-old currently is not competing for a starting job with the Blue Jays, but he remains a candidate for the bullpen.

Blue Jays Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule

Right-hander Danny Barnes is scheduled to start Toronto's second game of the spring on Saturday afternoon against the Tigers. Barnes is a full-time reliever and the Blue Jays are not stretching him out, but instead giving him one inning before handing it over to other relievers as part of a bullpen day.

Travis full participant

Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis is not expected to appear in the Blue Jays' first couple of games this spring, but it should not be very long before he returns to action. Travis has been a full participant in all of Toronto's infield drills this week, and he appears to be slightly ahead of schedule following last year's knee surgery.

"Taking it day-by-day, but I'm just so excited to be out there," Travis said. "I'm excited to come in and be a baseball player and not be a rehabber. It's a really nice thing."

Walker on the mend

Pitching coach Pete Walker is feeling better a day after a scary incident at the Bobby Mattick Training Center. Walker was leaning up against the batting cage when Yangervis Solarte fouled off a ball behind the plate. The protective screen had a bit of give to it, and as a result, Walker's arm was struck with full force. Walker dropped to the ground, and momentarily blacked out, as teammates and coaches ran to his aid.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Walker was taken to a local hospital for further tests but X-rays came back negative. The former big league pitcher has now been cleared to return, but he wanted to be cautious, and as a result stayed behind to work on pitching schedules instead of watching the Blue Jays' pitchers work out on Wednesday morning.

"Pete is doing alright," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "I saw him yesterday afternoon when he got back from the hospital. They checked him out and everything seemed fine. He just doesn't take a blow very well. He stayed back today because he was still feeling a little bit off."

Not done shopping

It's still very likely that the Blue Jays will add some more depth to the bullpen before the start of the season. How likely? Well according to Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins, it's "probably 90 percent." Toronto has at least a few million left to spend in this year's budget and is looking for either another setup man or a long reliever.

"It's pretty likely," Atkins said of adding another arm. "Is it 90? Probably 90 percent."

The hesitation

Marcus Stroman is well known for frequently using a hesitation in his delivery, and on Wednesday morning, closer Roberto Osuna tried to follow suit. Osuna was tossing a live batting practice session when he unveiled a hesitation in his delivery as well. It didn't work so well, as outfielder Randal Grichuk promptly hit one over the wall.

Video: Blue Jays pitching coach on Osuna's offseason

Stroman also tossed a live batting practice session on Wednesday morning and he unleashed a quick pitch sidearm to Ezequiel Carrera. Stroman has talked about possibly dropping down from time to time this season to continue giving hitters a different look. "Every time I catch that guy, I see something that I've never seen before," remarked catcher Luke Maile.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays

Top 20 players who will shape AL East race

MLB.com @williamfleitch

If you can believe it, Opening Day is only five weeks away, and we're previewing each division every Wednesday. Baseball is an individual sport masquerading as a team sport, so, thus, we'll be previewing each division by counting down the 20 most pivotal players in the division. These aren't necessarily the best players. They're just the ones whose 2018 performance will be most vital to their teams' success this season, and in seasons moving forward. To keep it fair, we can only pick four players from each team.

Today: The American League East. Tell me what you think -- not just about what you think of this list, but also whom I should not miss when I do the National League West next week -- at will.leitch@mlb.com.

If you can believe it, Opening Day is only five weeks away, and we're previewing each division every Wednesday. Baseball is an individual sport masquerading as a team sport, so, thus, we'll be previewing each division by counting down the 20 most pivotal players in the division. These aren't necessarily the best players. They're just the ones whose 2018 performance will be most vital to their teams' success this season, and in seasons moving forward. To keep it fair, we can only pick four players from each team.

Today: The American League East. Tell me what you think -- not just about what you think of this list, but also whom I should not miss when I do the National League West next week -- at will.leitch@mlb.com.

Previously: NL Central

20. Christian Arroyo, Tampa Bay Rays
Arroyo is an extremely promising third-base prospect who already has 135 at-bats in the Majors and is ranked No. 81 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects. I hope Arroyo can remember all those things when Rays fans look over at third base and, for the first time in a decade, see someone other than Evan Longoria there. Not just that, but Longoria is saying that he "feels bad for the Rays' fanbase." So, you know, good luck, kid.

19. Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles
He's not going to be back for a few months, but by the time he gets back, the Orioles will have a pretty solid idea of whether they're coming or going. Either they're going to need Britton to come back and work himself back into Britton-shape because they're fighting for an American League Wild Card spot, or they'll need him to come back because they're selling hard at the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Video: Must C Combo: Kiermaier flashes leather, power bat

18. Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays
You can tell pretty well what kind of baseball fan you're talking to when you discuss Kiermaier. Your FanGraphs obsessive thinks he's one of the best, and certainly one of the most underrated, players in the game. Your usual baseball-card-stat fan is totally baffled at what all the fuss is about.

17. Randal Grichuk, Toronto Blue Jays
Did the Blue Jays just get themselves a cost-controlled power bat, one who can play center field, on the cheap? After trading for Marcell Ozuna, the Cardinals didn't have a place for Grichuk, so they sent him to Toronto for reliever Dominic Leone, and Grichuk might be exactly the right fielder the Blue Jays were searching for. He strikes out way too much, and he's probably never going to be a consistent on-base threat, but he's under club control through 2020, plays the outfield like a dream, and if you make a mistake pitch to him, he will pulverize it.

16. Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles are making a last-ditch, all-in mad dash in the AL East this year, and while some might question the wisdom of such a maneuver, heck, the world was never made worse by people doing everything they can to win. (Note: The world is in fact always made worse this way.) If the O's are going to hang in, they're going to need all the offensive firepower they can muster, so it might be handy if the guy they still owe $127 million to could start launching bombs again.

15. Willy Adames, Tampa Bay Rays
You can forgive Rays fans for growing a bit exhausted with the "when our stud prospects get here, it's gonna be a different story, you'll see!" game, but the waiting game for Adames, the No. 22 prospect in the game according to MLB Pipeline, may still be worth it. Not only does Adames have all the tools, he's one of those makeup machines, the instant team leader everyone is always looking for, particularly out of the shortstop position.

14. Kevin Gausman, Baltimore Orioles
Gausman is the next in a long line of talented Orioles starters to never quite put it together in Baltimore, and there is always the fear he will leave town and immediately turn into Jake Arrieta. Gausman was healthy all of last season, which means he's ostensibly Baltimore's ace, but his skills have never quite translated into top-tier success. Which means the rest of baseball is ready to buy low.

13. Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox
When the Red Sox signed Porcello to a four-year contract extension before the 2015 season, they didn't think they were getting an AL Cy Young Award winner, any more than they thought they were signing a bust. The first two years of the deal, they've gotten both. Porcello led the Majors in wins in 2016, and losses in '17; that's pretty difficult to do. Somewhere in the middle would be just fine for Boston, particularly now that he's just a fourth starter.

Video: Stroman, Gibbons on Stroman losing arbitration

12. Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays
For all the talk of Stroman's unpleasant arbitration experience, there isn't much evidence that contentious arbitrations cause any sort of damage, short or long term. Good thing, because despite whatever they said in that room to Stroman, the Blue Jays desperately need Stroman to keep pitching like the ace he nearly was in 2017. It's almost impossible to see a way for the Blue Jays to contend without Stroman at least duplicating his '17 season.

Tweet from @MStrooo6: Just being real. Not mad at all. I???????????????????????????m aware of the business. Just opens your eyes going through the arbitration process. Second time going through it. Still love my team and the entire country of Canada. More upset that I had to fly to AZ and miss my Monday workout. Lol

11. Greg Bird, New York Yankees
It's funny to think that the young Yankees player everyone was excited about heading into 2017 wasn't Judge: It was Bird. After his horrendous start, he came on late, and the Yanks felt comfortable enough with him that they avoided any first-base free agent temptations. If Bird is fully locked and loaded, this lineup is even more terrifying that it already is. And if not: The Yankees will not lack for options.

* * * * *

Halftime break! AL East mascots, ranked!

1. The Oriole Bird
The name could use some work, but otherwise, the perfect Oriole color scheme makes for a perfect baseball bird mascot. He's such a pretty bird that we'll ignore that he's naked. (The other bird in the division is far more modest.)

2. Raymond Ray
Discovered by fishermen who noticed he was drawn to the boat by the smell of hot dogs, Raymond Ray looks a little like a character in "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou."

3. Ace
Blue Jays are actually quite aggressive birds, but Ace is pretty chill, all told. He does get points for being an improvement on the old BJ Birdy, who looked insane and had a redundant name.

4. Wally the Green Monster
All mascots are for kids, but I might humbly submit that Wally is maybe a little too scary for kids.

5. Unknown Yankees mascot
The Yankees famously do not have a mascot, though in a pinch, Justice Sonia Sotomayor would make a pretty great one.

Gif: Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in Judge's Chambers

* * * * *

10. Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees
Tanaka's peripheral numbers suggest that if he's not an ace, he's No. 2-starter material at least. He has a terrific K/BB ratio (the best on the team), and his season ERA was inflated by a dreadful May (8.42 ERA). Tanaka at his worst is still a rotation mainstay, and he is the one guy in the rotation who should be better but, in 2017, just wasn't.

9. Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
In the 2013 World Series, when most of us were first seeing Bogaerts, it appeared we were looking at the next great superstar. It hasn't worked out that way, with Bogaerts never becoming that superstar -- and even taking a big step back in 2017, dropping to only 10 homers and losing 21 points in batting average. He's still only 25 years old, though, and the talent is still all there. If this is Bogaerts' breakout season, the Red Sox's lineup could be scarier than you think.

8. Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays
What was up with Osuna last year? He struck out 11.7 batters per nine innings. Osuna dropped his walk rate for the third straight year. He gave up only three homers in 64 innings pitched. Osuna had a 0.859 WHIP. Those numbers look totally dominant, right? So how in the world did Osuna blow 10 saves? If the results match the skills, the Blue Jays will have the ninth inning on lockdown.

7. Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays
Essentially the last man standing at this point, right? Now that the Rays' rebuild seems imminent, there's not much reason to keep Archer around, particularly when there isn't a team in baseball (save for Tampa Bay, apparently!) who couldn't use a cost-controlled ace who's also charismatic and fun. If the Rays want to fully restock their farm system, Archer and closer Alex Colome are surely the next (and maybe last) to go.

6. Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles
One of the many enticing aspects of trading for Machado in the offseason -- as many, many teams tried to do -- was the sense that he's going to erupt in this, his contract year. Machado had an unfortunate 2017, but he still had his moments, and he clearly has talent to burn everywhere. He'll be at shortstop this year and eager to impress potential free-agent suitors. How long Machado is in Baltimore may depend on how long the Orioles can hang around the race; the minute those leaks trickle out about "the O's are listening to offers on Machado," this is instantly the biggest story in the sport.

5. J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox
All right, so now that he's finally here, now what? The long, slow, pained offseason seduction between the Red Sox and Martinez finally consummated this week, at a reasonable price for Boston and, of course, a fortune for Martinez. But there is an extended, sordid history of expensive free agents coming into Fenway Park and being eaten alive almost immediately; remember, the Red Sox will still be paying Pablo Sandoval $18.5 million next season. Martinez is no Sandoval, but Red Sox fans have a way of eyeing a new guy warily for a while when he shows up in town. The upside is obviously huge, but remember: They were mocking poor Jack Clark in The Town 20 years after he signed.

Video: Ian Browne discusses J.D. Martinez signing

4. David Price, Boston Red Sox
Speaking of big, expensive Red Sox free agents whom the town quickly turned on. Price is only two years into his $217 million deal, and he spent most of his 2017 either in the bullpen, hurt, feuding with Dennis Eckersley or being hissed at by Beantown faithful. Just five years to go! Price apparently isn't too sore about his time in Boston so far; he was one of the main ambassadors selling Martinez on the place. But he has an opt-out clause after this season if he wants to use it, but that would require exactly the sort of year the Red Sox were paying him for in the first place.

3. Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays
A little like Archer and Machado, but Donaldson's far more fascinating than those two. Unlike them, he:

A: Is beloved by the fan base and actively interested in signing an extension;
B: Has nevertheless been unable to come to terms on one;
C: Is on a team that has a chance to contend for an AL Wild Card this year;
D: Could still be dealt, even through gritted teeth, at the non-waiver Trade Deadline;

What are the Blue Jays going to do with Donaldson? Merely the whole next decade of the franchise might rely on the answer.

1 and 1a, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
It is a big story that one of these massive humans exist. It's a bigger story that they both exist. It's an even bigger story that they're on the same team. Now add to the mix that their team is the Yankees -- a club that seemed to have lost its swagger but now has it back a thousandfold. In retrospect, it seems inevitable that these two wooly mammoths are in the same lineup, in the Bronx, secured now to spend their most formidable years together. They're the primary reasons to hate the Yanks again, which, of course, means the Yankees are, once again and at last, completely unmissable. They're the biggest story in baseball this year, and one of the biggest stories in sports. Who doesn't want to see what happens here? I cannot wait.

Video: Judge, Stanton could lead Yanks to back-to-back mark

* * * * *

We finish this preview, as we will with all of them, with predictions. I apologize in advance because these predictions are guaranteed to be correct and thus I'm a little worried I'm spoiling the season for you.

New York Yankees: 92-70
Boston Red Sox: 90-72
Toronto Blue Jays: 82-80
Baltimore Orioles: 74-88
Tampa Bay Rays: 69-93

Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.

Atkins confident Donaldson deal will get done

Slugger ready to focus on season amid impasse, GM continues to negotiate
Special to MLB.com

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- One day after Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson shut down contract negotiations, general manager Ross Atkins addressed the media at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.

"I think it is 'yet,'" Atkins said. "We haven't reached a deal yet."

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- One day after Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson shut down contract negotiations, general manager Ross Atkins addressed the media at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.

"I think it is 'yet,'" Atkins said. "We haven't reached a deal yet."

Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Gear

The 2015 American League Most Valuable Player Award winner is looking for a long-term extension with the team after batting .270/.385/.559 with 33 home runs and 78 RBIs, despite being limited to just 113 games due to a right calf injury.

"We're not in the same type of area, the same ballpark, to make a discussion moving forward," Donaldson told reporters on Monday.

Atkins believes that Donaldson and the team will still be able to reach an agreement to keep him in a Blue Jays uniform beyond this season. Shutting down negotiations will allow the two-time Silver Slugger Award winner to focus on the upcoming season, something that is in the best interest of both the player and the team.

"It's been respectful. It's been productive. It's been open," Atkins said of the talks. "We've learned a great deal about one another over the past two and a half years, and I feel good about the relationship, and I feel good about the potential for him to be here long term."

Atkins did not comment on whether they had exchanged hard figures, but said that the team had expressed how they view Donaldson's overall value as a player.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"There's no doubt in my mind that he wants to be a Toronto Blue Jay. There's no doubt in anyone's mind," Atkins said. "It's such an interesting process with a player of his caliber because he feels a responsibility to this organization, and he feels a responsibility to the city, and he feels a responsibility to his teammates and he also feels a responsibility to the industry."

While the 32-year-old Donaldson said that he was likely headed toward free agency at the end of the 2017 season, that doesn't mean that the Blue Jays won't continue to negotiate a new deal. That's a lesson they learned from last year after negotiations stalled with then-free agent Edwin Encarnacion, who eventually landed with the Cleveland Indians. Atkins said that they would continue to try and work out a deal even if Donaldson did become a free agent.

"They understand where we were, and we understand where they are," Atkins said. "We will continue to work on it, and continue to see."

Donaldson was just one of the topics that Atkins touched upon on Tuesday. He also noted that even though the divisional-rival Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees made some major acquisitions this offseason, the organization still feels it can contend for the AL East crown.

"It's the AL East, and I think the players' reactions to that is the best in my opinion," Atkins said. "They want to be playing against the best, and to beat the best you are going to have to be playing against the best. Ultimately, we see it as a challenge we'll embrace."

Atkins also said he doesn't expect there to be any major signings by the Blue Jays from the remaining free-agent pool, and that there was a "better than 90 percent chance" that the Opening Day roster would consist of players that are already in camp. One exception could be another late addition to the bullpen.

"We have a good team," he said. "We have a very good core of leaders that have won before. There's a lot of reason to believe there could be some bounce-back from some of our players that were injured last year. We have a much, much better Triple-A team, and farm system that, in the event we do have setbacks, that we will be able to overcome them.

"It does feel good, and it feels good to be here with this group of guys, and I feel confident that we have a solid group to make a good run."

J. Scott Butherus is a contributor to MLB.com.

Toronto Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson

All signs 'positive' for Sanchez in live BP

Righty feels ahead of schedule this spring after battling injuries in 2017
Special to MLB.com

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Blue Jays starter Aaron Sanchez showed no signs of the lingering injuries that cost him most of the 2017 season after throwing his first session of live batting practice on Tuesday. The 25-year-old right-hander saw action against a group that included sluggers Kendrys Morales, Steve Pearce, Justin Smoak and Josh Donaldson at the Bobby Mattick Training Center practice fields.

"In terms of how I felt and the ball coming out of my hand, there were no issues," Sanchez said. "I felt like the action was really good. My command was really good. No issues with the finger, which is a huge plus. Arm felt good. Body felt good. All signs were positive."

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Blue Jays starter Aaron Sanchez showed no signs of the lingering injuries that cost him most of the 2017 season after throwing his first session of live batting practice on Tuesday. The 25-year-old right-hander saw action against a group that included sluggers Kendrys Morales, Steve Pearce, Justin Smoak and Josh Donaldson at the Bobby Mattick Training Center practice fields.

"In terms of how I felt and the ball coming out of my hand, there were no issues," Sanchez said. "I felt like the action was really good. My command was really good. No issues with the finger, which is a huge plus. Arm felt good. Body felt good. All signs were positive."

• Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule

Sanchez was limited to eight starts in 2017 because of recurring blister issues on the middle finger of his pitching hand. He went 1-3 with a 4.25 ERA over 36 innings. Even when he was able to get on the mound, he was nagged by control problems, issuing 20 walks in the limited span.

Tuesday was Sanchez's first time facing live hitters since July. The righty, who lives in the Tampa Bay area in the offseason, said that he feels ahead of schedule after reporting to camp early again this spring.

"We'll just keep checking every box off as we get there, and hopefully we'll continue to go at a solid pace," Sanchez said. "I think I've thrown off the mound seven or eight times before today, so I know where I need to be, and I feel like I'm there."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Toronto manager John Gibbons is optimistic that Sanchez can bounce back to be the pitcher who had a breakout 2016 season, when he went 15-2 with a 3.00 ERA in his first full year in the Blue Jays' rotation.

"He really looked like midseason form, and that's exciting to see," Gibbons said. "Everything came out nice and easy and really locked in. I didn't expect to see him that good."

Scary moment at camp
Pitching coach Pete Walker gave players and fans a bit of a scare after he collapsed on the team's practice field on Tuesday. Walker was struck by a ball while standing behind the protective cage during live batting practice.

Walker, who has been with the team since 2012, lay on the ground for several minutes while training staff attended to him. He was able to wave to the fans as he was escorted back to the team's facilities before being taken to a nearby hospital for observation.

"He is feeling clear-headed now, and all his vital [signs] are fine," general manager Ross Atkins said. "He was in good spirits and laughing with the guys and right back to being himself, but that's something that we are going to take seriously and make sure that he is 100 percent. All signs are that he is."

Tulo progressing
Atkins likes what he has seen so far this spring from shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, even if he isn't fully ready to go by Opening Day.

Video: Tulowitzki on timetable to return from injuries

"There's a few more tests that he will have to go through that we'll have a lot more confidence once he does," Atkins said. "All of the subjective comments are great. He's moving around well. We are encouraged and optimistic. Time will tell, and there are a few more benchmarks for us."

J. Scott Butherus is a contributor to MLB.com.

Toronto Blue Jays, Aaron Sanchez

All clubs to don Douglas caps for ST openers

MLB.com @_dadler

All 30 Major League teams will wear Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School baseball caps before their Spring Training games this weekend to show support for the Parkland, Fla., community and the Stoneman Douglas student body after the tragic shooting at the school on Feb. 14.

Players across MLB will then be signing the caps and auctioning them to raise money for the Broward Education Foundation, which will benefit the official Stoneman Douglas Victims' Fund. Seventeen people were killed in the shooting, including 14 students and three staff members.

All 30 Major League teams will wear Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School baseball caps before their Spring Training games this weekend to show support for the Parkland, Fla., community and the Stoneman Douglas student body after the tragic shooting at the school on Feb. 14.

Players across MLB will then be signing the caps and auctioning them to raise money for the Broward Education Foundation, which will benefit the official Stoneman Douglas Victims' Fund. Seventeen people were killed in the shooting, including 14 students and three staff members.

Video: Teams to wear Stoneman Douglas hats for ST openers

"It's a tragedy. It was a tragedy that hit the state of Florida, where we have two teams, but obviously has very specific baseball connections," Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "Really a very strong sentiment among the clubs that this was the appropriate thing to do immediately."

MLB teams will wear the caps pregame on Friday and will also be allowed to wear them during their games. Since they're off on Friday, the Royals and Rangers will don the hats on Saturday.

The Commissioner approved the use of the caps during all games on Friday, the Spring Training openers for most of the clubs.

The effort started with a few Grapefruit League teams, which wanted to wear the caps pregame, and it quickly spread across camps in Florida and Arizona. Soon all 30 teams had decided to join in the support and fundraising effort for the school community.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo attended Stoneman Douglas, and spoke at a prayer vigil at Pine Trails Park the day after the shooting. 

"It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do," Rizzo said Monday about meeting with families of the victims of the shooting. "You don't know what to say, there's nothing you can say. When people get shot, you're grateful they're alive. When they pass away, you're grateful you knew them. Just to see how real it is, it's sad and it's why I'm so proud of what they're doing back in Parkland and how everyone is coming together. They're going to turn this tragedy into something positive.

"The caps made for the fundraising effort will be provided to all players, coaches and umpires."

The Stoneman Douglas High School caps are reminiscent of how the Mets wore NYPD and FDNY caps following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The Mets donned the caps to honor the first responders in their first game after the attacks, in Pittsburgh on Sept. 17, and again in their return to New York four days later. In that memorable game at Shea Stadium, Mike Piazza hit the go-ahead home run in the eighth inning to lead the Mets to an emotional win over the Braves.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Donaldson done talking extension to focus on '18

MLB.com @gregorMLB

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson fully expects to hit free agency at the end of the season because his representatives and Toronto's front office have not seen "eye to eye" on the framework of a long-term deal.

Donaldson announced midway through his first media availability of the spring that he was happy to answer any questions about his pending free agency, but after Monday afternoon he would no longer comment on the issue.

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson fully expects to hit free agency at the end of the season because his representatives and Toronto's front office have not seen "eye to eye" on the framework of a long-term deal.

Donaldson announced midway through his first media availability of the spring that he was happy to answer any questions about his pending free agency, but after Monday afternoon he would no longer comment on the issue.

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That sparked a countless number of questions from reporters about the nature of his negotiations this offseason and the odds of him remaining in a Blue Jays uniform beyond 2018. Donaldson patiently answered each one and insisted -- despite the lack of a long-term deal -- he was "happy" and "excited" about the upcoming season.

"There really haven't been numbers per se, any definite type of numbers that have been thrown around," Donaldson said when asked if he received an offer. "But we've had conversations about it and I just think that we are not quite there.

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"Not quite there meaning there's not a deal done and we're just not there. We're not in the same type of area, the same ballpark, to make a discussion to moving forward. To me, it's just not that big of an issue to focus on right now, or throughout this season, because I don't feel like the time is right at the moment and I just want to really focus on what I can do to be better and what I can do in our locker room to be better."

Donaldson expressed his desire for a long-term deal at the end of last season, but it seems like the talks never really got off the ground. He met with Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins as recently as Thursday at Toronto's Minor League complex, but with both sides seemingly far apart in negotiations, all of the talks are now being put on hold.

Video: Outlook: Donaldson still dominant force at third base

The 32-year-old Donaldson said that he recently informed the Blue Jays that he is no longer interested in negotiating a new deal. That stance will change at the end of the season and Donaldson clearly stated that he expects the talks will "ramp up again at some point." He just doesn't want it to happen now because his focus is on the field and he doesn't want any distractions taking away from that.

"I believe they want me," Donaldson said. "If they didn't want me, we wouldn't be having any type of discussions leading up to this point. They've been very good with the communication process. We just aren't eye to eye at this moment. I've talked to Ross. I explained to him that I thought it would be best to just kind of shut that down right now. I feel like it's best for me to focus on myself and focus on this team, because I know that's what's going to help us win games."

Donaldson is coming off a season in which he hit .270/.385/.559 with 33 home runs over 113 games. A lingering right calf injury led to an extended stint on the disabled list and 2017 marked the first year since he became a regular in '13 that Donaldson was limited to fewer than 155 games. Until last season, he was known as one of the most durable players in the game, and that's a reputation he is looking to regain this year.

The former American League Most Valuable Player is taking a risk by putting off contract negotiations, but then again, so are the Blue Jays. The free-agent market was slow to develop this offseason and some players were forced to lower their asking prices in search of a big league deal. Donaldson, for his part, doesn't seem too concerned about the current economic climate because he believes next year will be a different story.

"What has led up to right now, I don't personally believe is going to be what the market is next year, per se," Donaldson said. "You're going to have a very good free-agent class. We'll see what happens, but as of right now, our camp and I, we have our views, and it hasn't shifted."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson

Tulo (right foot) limited in fielding activities

Blue Jays taking cautious approach with veteran shortstop
MLB.com @gregorMLB

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki says the bone spur in his right foot is feeling a lot better, but he stopped short of saying that he would be ready for the start of the season.

Tulowitzki has dealt with a bone spur in his right heel throughout a 12-year career in the big leagues, but it became a bigger issue this offseason when he was rehabbing a severely sprained right ankle. The initial hope was that he would be a full participant in Spring Training, but that's no longer realistic.

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki says the bone spur in his right foot is feeling a lot better, but he stopped short of saying that he would be ready for the start of the season.

Tulowitzki has dealt with a bone spur in his right heel throughout a 12-year career in the big leagues, but it became a bigger issue this offseason when he was rehabbing a severely sprained right ankle. The initial hope was that he would be a full participant in Spring Training, but that's no longer realistic.

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The 33-year-old has been jogging, going through some light fielding drills and taking batting practice but that has been the extent of his baseball activities. Tulowitzki has yet to begin running and all of his infield work has been limited to light tosses within a confined space instead of fielding balls off the bat.

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"I'm not going to put any timetables on it," Tulowitzki said when asked if he would be ready for Opening Day. "Obviously that's the goal but there are still so many days in front of us here in Spring Training. I definitely want to be out there but I'm not going to say, 'Yeah, sure.' I'm going to take it day by day and see where it takes me."

Tulowitzki sat down with Blue Jays manager John Gibbons after reporting to camp and explained his situation. Toronto intends to take a cautious approach to avoid another setback and that likely will involve Tulowitzki sitting out of fielding drills for at least another week or two. He'll continue to take batting practice but any other activities will remain limited for the moment.

Toronto at least can take some solace in the fact that the organization is better prepared to handle this situation than it was a year ago. The Blue Jays fully expected for Tulowitzki and possibly even second baseman Devon Travis, to miss some time this season and that's one of the main reasons the ballclub made it a top priority to increase its infield depth. Enter, Yangervis Solarte, Aledmys Diaz and Gift Ngoepe.

"We definitely added some good players," Tulowitzki said. "Some guys that have some potential. Some guys that, if there were days, that were given to me, or Devon, can step in there and definitely have quality at-bats, do their job in the field and help the team win ballgames. I think we're all excited about the guys we added, and hopefully they can contribute to us winning games."

Paying tribute to Doc
The Blue Jays are wearing a No. 32 crest on their uniforms this spring in honor of the late Roy Halladay, who tragically passed away following a plane crash during the offseason. Halladay is a future Hall of Famer and is known for being one of the greatest pitchers in franchise history.

Toronto previously announced that it would be retiring Halladay's number on Opening Day, prior to a game against the Yankees on March 29. John Gibbons was Halladay's manager with the Blue Jays for parts of six seasons from 2004-09 and said the organization should be doing everything possible to honor one of the all-time greats.

"It means a lot, he should be recognized," Gibbons said. "It was a tragedy. I don't know anybody who ever came across Doc that didn't love the guy. He wasn't an easy guy to get to know, but you loved everything about him because he was a gentleman and a stand-up guy. In the profession we're in, he was the best in the game. I think it's a nice honor, but it's still very sad."

Quotable
"If I want the pitcher out of there, I can still do it, right? I can make my own pitching changes so I kind of like that. I don't have to wait for the pitching coach to come out and give him the hook when I thought the guy should have been out of there two hitters ago." -- Tulowitzki, joking when asked about Major League Baseball's new pace of play rules that will limit mound visits to six times per game

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Troy Tulowitzki

'Competitive' edge helping Smoak flourish

After dealing with patella tendinitis, slugger hoping to continue 2017 success
MLB.com @gregorMLB

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Justin Smoak is no stranger to lofty expectations. Last year just happened to be the first time he actually lived up to them.

Smoak is coming off a breakout season that included career highs in every major offensive category. The former top prospect and 11th overall pick in the 2008 Draft finally seized his opportunity to play every day, and finally, after all this time, the early career hype matched his performance.

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Justin Smoak is no stranger to lofty expectations. Last year just happened to be the first time he actually lived up to them.

Smoak is coming off a breakout season that included career highs in every major offensive category. The former top prospect and 11th overall pick in the 2008 Draft finally seized his opportunity to play every day, and finally, after all this time, the early career hype matched his performance.

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The 31-year-old now faces the daunting task of trying to repeat that level of production for a second consecutive year. With the Blue Jays expected to have some issues scoring runs this season, they can ill afford any regression from such a key part of the lineup.

"I've had those expectations, I feel like, every year," said Smoak, who is entering his ninth big league season. "Coming up, I was a guy everybody expected to do what I did last year, and it didn't work out that way for me the first five or six years in the big leagues. But I feel like I finally got back to what I knew I was as a player and how I wanted to feel when I was at the plate, in the field, or whatever it was."

Smoak was named to the All-Star team for the first time in his career last year on the heels of a first half that saw him hit .294/.360/.575 with 23 home runs. The problem is that the second half wasn't nearly as productive, creating some debate as to whether the first three months were a mirage or the new norm.

From Aug. 1 until the end of the year, Smoak hit just .213/.311/.406 with eight home runs and 19 RBIs. It was a significant dropoff, but one that the Blue Jays internally chalked up to fatigue and several injuries. Smoak declined to disclose the nature of those ailments last season, because he didn't want to make excuses, but he was a little more forthcoming during his first media availability of the spring.

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Smoak revealed that he was dealing with patella tendinitis in one of his knees. The lingering issue resulted in Smoak slightly changing his offseason workout routine to focus on some of his muscles in and around the knee.

"I think it's just the grind of the season," Smoak said. "You're going to have ups and downs. Days you feel great and days you don't. I dealt with an issue in the past with a little patella tendinitis, and that was kind of the main thing, but I feel like I've done some things this offseason to make that better, and I just have to keep doing the things that I was doing to keep it strong and try to alleviate that pain."

Video: MLB Network's Top 100 Players Right Now: 92-90

Despite the second-half struggles, Smoak's reputation around the game is clearly improving. He was recently ranked No. 92 on MLB Network's Top 100 Players Right Now list, and he will undoubtedly be a focal point for opposing pitchers alongside perennial American League Most Valuable Player Award candidate Josh Donaldson.

With some serious question marks about the overall depth of this lineup it will be up to the heart of the order to do most of the heavy lifting. Last year, Smoak wasn't really looked at as that type of player, but he certainly is now, and for as lofty as those expectations might have been in the past, they now seem to be at an all-time high.

"I got tired of not being competitive," Smoak said. "I feel like I just wasn't competitive. I wanted to be more competitive at the plate and have better at-bats, and I feel like I was able to do that. I stopped trying to hit home runs and just have good at-bats and not worry about the outcome. I feel like that put me in a better place."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Justin Smoak

MLB announces pace of play initiatives for '18

MLB.com @_dadler

Major League Baseball will implement new pace of play rules for the 2018 season, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced Monday, but there will be no pitch clock this season.

After consulting with the MLB Players Association and all 30 clubs, MLB announced its slate of rules changes, among them a limit on mound visits per game.

Major League Baseball will implement new pace of play rules for the 2018 season, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced Monday, but there will be no pitch clock this season.

After consulting with the MLB Players Association and all 30 clubs, MLB announced its slate of rules changes, among them a limit on mound visits per game.

•  Pace of play rules FAQ

A pitch clock -- giving the pitcher a certain amount of time to deliver the ball -- had been one of the major proposals considered. MLB decided to defer implementation of a pitch clock, as well as a between-batter timer, in order to give players an opportunity to respond to the new rules and positively affect pace of play throughout the 2018 season.

"I am pleased that we were able to reach an understanding with the Players Association to take concrete steps to address pace of play with the cooperation of players," Manfred said in a statement. "My strong preference is to continue to have ongoing dialogue with players on this topic to find mutually acceptable solutions."

New phone lines connecting the video review rooms and the dugout will be installed and monitored, limiting the ability of teams to steal signs, which is viewed as a contributing factor to the increasing number of mound visits. Rules governing when players can and cannot leave the batter's box between pitches, instituted during the 2017 season, remain in effect.

•  Players, managers react to new rules

"Players were involved in the pace of game discussion from Day 1, and are committed to playing a crisp and exciting brand of baseball for the fans, but they remain concerned about rule changes that could alter the outcome of games and the fabric of the game itself -- now or in the future," said Tony Clark, the MLBPA executive director.

Here is a breakdown of the new rules:

• Mound visits: Mound visits will be limited to six per team per nine innings. Teams will receive an additional visit for every extra inning played. Any manager, coach or player visit to the mound will count as a mound visit. Visits to the mound to clean cleats in rainy weather, to check on an injury or potential injury or after the announcement of an offensive substitution are excepted. Also, normal communication between player and pitcher that do not require either to vacate their position on the field do not count as a visit. If a team is out of visits, the umpire will have discretion to grant a visit at the catcher's request if he believes there has been a cross-up between the pitcher and catcher.

Video: Hot Stove on mound visits regarding pace of play

• Between-inning breaks: As has been the case since the start of the 2016 season, a timer will count down between innings from 2:05 for breaks in locally televised games, from 2:25 in nationally televised games and from 2:55 for tiebreaker and postseason games. The difference now is that at the 25-second mark, the umpire will signal for the final warmup pitch and the pitcher must throw it before the clock hits 20. The batter will be announced at the 20-second mark and the pitcher must begin his windup to throw the first pitch of the inning within the five seconds before the clock hits zero. Another important change is that a pitcher is no longer guaranteed eight warmup pitches between innings. However, he can take as many as he wants within the countdown parameters noted above. The timer will start on the last out of the inning, unless the pitcher is on base, on deck or at bat, in which case the timer shall begin when the pitcher leaves the dugout for the mound. If the final out of the inning is subject to replay, the timer begins when the umpire signals the out.

• Timing of pitcher changes: The timing clock -- as listed above -- also applies to pitching changes, and it will begin as soon as the relief pitcher crosses the warning track.

Video: Hot Stove on batter's box rule, replay review changes

• Instant replay: All club video review rooms will now receive direct slow-motion camera angles in order to speed up challenges and the resulting review. New phone lines will connect the rooms to the dugout and will be monitored to prevent their use for sign stealing.

Summary of 2018 Rule Changes

I) Mound Visits 
1. Number
A. 2018 Championship Season. Mound visits without a pitching change shall be limited to six (6) per team, per nine innings. For any extra-innings played, each Club shall be entitled to one additional non-pitching change mound visit per inning.  
B. OBR 5.10(l). Official Baseball Rule 5.10(l), which governs mound visits by a manager or coach, remains in effect (i.e., a pitcher must be removed on the second visit by a manager/coach in an inning). 

2. Definition of Mound Visit. A manager or coach trip to the mound to meet with the pitcher shall constitute a visit. A player leaving his position to confer with the pitcher, including a pitcher leaving the mound to confer with another player, shall also constitute a mound visit, regardless of where the visit occurs or the length of the visit, except that the following shall not constitute mound visits:
A. Discussions between pitchers and position player(s) that (i) occur between batters in the normal course of play and do not require either the position player(s) or the pitcher to relocate;
B. Visits by position players to the mound to clean spikes in rainy conditions;
C. Visits to the mound due to an injury or potential injury of the pitcher; and
D. Visits to the mound after the announcement of an offensive substitution.

3. Cross-Up in Signs. In the event a team has exhausted its allotment of mound visits in a game (or extra inning) and the home plate umpire determines that the catcher and pitcher did not have a shared understanding of the location or type of pitch that had been signaled by the catcher (otherwise referred to as a "cross-up"), the home plate umpire may, upon request of the catcher, allow the catcher to make a brief mound visit. Any mound visit resulting from a cross-up prior to a team exhausting its allotted number of visits shall count against a team's total number of allotted mound visits.

II) Inning Breaks and Pitching Changes
1. Time of Break. The timer will count down from 2:05 for breaks in locally televised championship season games, from 2:25 for breaks in nationally televised championship season games, and from 2:55 for tie-breaker and postseason games as follows: 

Time Remaining | Required Action
25 seconds: 
Umpire signals pitcher to complete last warmup pitch.
20 seconds: Batter's announced and must leave on-deck circle, batter walk-up music shall begin, and pitcher shall complete last warmup pitch.
0 seconds: Pitcher must begin motion to deliver first pitch.

A. The pitcher may take as many warm-up pitches as he desires, but regardless of how many warm-up pitches he has thrown, he must deliver his final warm-up pitch at least 20 seconds prior to the end of an inning break or pitching change. OBR 5:07 will be revised to reflect that pitcher is not guaranteed eight warm-up pitches. 
B. The umpire shall signal for the last warm-up pitch at 25 seconds, unless a special circumstance (as described below) applies. 
C. The batter must leave the on-deck circle and proceed directly to the batter's box when the pitcher throws his final warm-up pitch.  
D. The pitcher must begin his motion for the first pitch as soon as the batter steps into the box and is alert to the pitcher; provided, however, the pitcher cannot begin his motion for the first pitch more than five seconds prior to the end of an inning break or pitching change so that television is ensured to be back from commercial break. 

2. Special Circumstances. A Player will be excused from following the time limits set forth above if the umpire determines that any of the following special circumstances are present:  
A. There is a delay in normal warm-up activities during the inning break due to no fault of the Players (e.g., injury or other medical emergency, equipment issues, playing field or grounds crew issues);
B. The umpire believes the pitcher is at a legitimate risk of injury if he does not receive additional time to throw warm-up pitches; 
C. The umpire believes the batter is at a legitimate risk of injury if he does not receive additional time to enter the batter's box; 
D. Any other special circumstances which, in the umpire's judgment, warrant allowing the pitcher to throw after the deadline. 

3. Start of Timer for Inning Breaks
A. Last Out of Inning. The timer shall start on the last out of an inning for an inning break.   
B. Close Plays/Replay Review. The Field Timing Coordinator shall delay the start of the timer if the final out of the inning is a close play that may be reviewed by instant replay. If the final out of the inning is determined in instant replay, the timer shall start as soon as the out is signaled by the umpire.  
C. Pitcher or Catcher On Base/On Deck. If a pitcher ends an inning on base, on deck, or at bat, the timer shall reset when the pitcher leaves the dugout for the mound. If a catcher ends the inning on base, on deck, or at bat, the timer will reset when the catcher enters the dugout (and another catcher must begin warming up the pitcher). 
 
4. Start of Timer for Pitching Changes
A. Pitcher Crosses Warning Track. The pitching change timer shall begin as soon as the relief pitcher crosses the warning track (or foul line for on-field bullpens) to enter the game. In the case of a pitching change that occurs during an inning break, the timer shall reset if previously started as soon as the relief pitcher crosses the warning track (or foul line for on-field bullpens).  
B. Relief Pitchers Must Promptly Leave Bullpen. Relief pitchers shall leave the bullpen promptly following an appropriate signal by their manager or coach. During the playing of God Bless America, or any other extended inning event previously approved by the Office of the Commissioner, the timer will begin at the conclusion of the song or event. 
 
5. Enforcement. Umpires shall direct players and enforce the inning break and pitching change time limits on the field. Players who consistently or flagrantly violate the time limits will be subject to progressive discipline for just cause by the Office of the Commissioner pursuant to Article XI(C) of the Basic Agreement.

III. Batter's Box Rule
The batter's box rule that was in effect during the 2017 season will remain in effect during the 2018 season.

IV. Video Replay Review
The following adjustments will be made to the video replay technology:
A. Install capability for all Club video review rooms to receive direct slow motion camera angles for the 2018 championship season; 
B. Install new phone lines connecting the video review rooms and the dugout, and monitor the communications over those lines to prevent their use for sign-stealing.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Osuna 'outstanding' so far at Spring Training

Pitching coach Walker impressed with closer's offseason work
MLB.com @gregorMLB

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays have been holding official spring workouts for less than a week, but pitching coach Pete Walker is already excited about what he has seen from closer Roberto Osuna.

Osuna is coming off a rollercoaster of a season. On one hand, he set a career high with 39 saves. On the other, Osuna's ERA was almost a full run higher than the previous year, and he blew 10 save opportunities, including seven in the second half of the season

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays have been holding official spring workouts for less than a week, but pitching coach Pete Walker is already excited about what he has seen from closer Roberto Osuna.

Osuna is coming off a rollercoaster of a season. On one hand, he set a career high with 39 saves. On the other, Osuna's ERA was almost a full run higher than the previous year, and he blew 10 save opportunities, including seven in the second half of the season

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Osuna experienced a slight drop in velocity last season. Additionally, he revealed his battle with anxiety in June. However, he's looking to close the door on a challenging season this spring. He bulked up a little bit over the winter, and Walker believes this is the best he has ever seen Osuna this early in camp.

Video: Outlook: Osuna has skills to rank among elite closers

"There were a couple of things, mechanically," Walker said of last year's struggles. "I think, physically, he was down a bit in weight. There were some things that were shared publicly, but his stuff was still good. His velo was down for a little while, and he maybe used that cutter a little bit too much at one point during the season. But he came in, in great shape, he's actually put on some size and it's about commanding the fastball. He looks outstanding so far."

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Osuna ranks in the top 10 in workload for relievers over the past three years combined, but the Blue Jays don't expect to make too many changes in how often he takes the mound. The native of Mexico tossed at least 64 innings during each of his big league seasons, and that's probably not going to change anytime soon, because he has to be the anchor at the back end of Toronto's bullpen.

"He's our Major League closer," Walker said. "We know his workload and what he can handle. Certainly we want to watch him. He's still early in his career. He has some valuable experience early, but we have a good feel for what he needs to do and keep him on the field at this point."

Video: Outlook: Stroman to be an effective AL starter in '18

Submarine style

Right-hander Marcus Stroman has been openly talking about occasionally dropping down this season to throw sidearm. It's the latest addition to his unorthodox set of mechanics that is designed to alternate speed with long pauses and hitches to mess with hitters' timing.

Walker has heard some of that talk, but he has yet to see it in person so he's withholding judgement for now. His priority is not on any of Stroman's new quirks, but instead on getting him ready for the start of the year.

"He hasn't used it yet for me," Walker said of the submarine delivery. "I've heard about it, but he hasn't broken it out in side [sessions] yet. We're concentrating on getting his stuff to where it needs to be at this point, and that's something we can discuss down the road."

On the docket

The Blue Jays will hold their first official full-squad workout on Monday morning at the Bobby Mattick Training Center. Toronto's position players reported for their physicals on Sunday morning, and they are now set to join the pitchers and catchers on the Minor League side.

Toronto will hold live batting practice along with some fielding drills over the next three days before opening its Grapefruit League season on Friday afternoon at Dunedin Stadium vs. the Phillies.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Roberto Osuna

Estrada fine-tuning changeup delivery

Right-hander quickening pace after struggling with pitch in 2017
MLB.com @gregorMLB

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Blue Jays right-hander Marco Estrada believes he has figured out why hitters were having so much success off his changeup last season.

Estrada admitted that after watching video of last year's starts, he discovered an issue with his mechanics. Whenever Estrada threw the changeup, his delivery was a little bit slower compared to the rest of his pitches.

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Blue Jays right-hander Marco Estrada believes he has figured out why hitters were having so much success off his changeup last season.

Estrada admitted that after watching video of last year's starts, he discovered an issue with his mechanics. Whenever Estrada threw the changeup, his delivery was a little bit slower compared to the rest of his pitches.

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Most people would not be able to notice the slight variation, but opposing hitters seemed to pick up on it. They had more success off the pitch than ever before, and it was one of the reasons Estrada finished the year with a disappointing 4.98 ERA.

"I just telegraphed it a little more," said Estrada, who is entering his fourth season with the Blue Jays. "I don't really look at video too often, but that was one of the things I did look at. I could just see my arm wasn't really getting through the zone, because I was trying to baby it."

The changeup is far and away Estrada's best pitch, but last year it let him down. According to Baseball Savant, Estrada threw the changeup 1,035 times and opponents hit .245 with 35 extra-base hits and a .480 slugging percentage against it. Compare to that the previous year, when Estrada threw the changeup 841 times and limited hitters to a .162 average with just 16 extra-base hits and a .304 slugging percentage.

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The dropoff was significant and for a long time, Estrada struggled to figure out why. He was healthy and no longer feeling the effects of a chronic back issue that has plagued him throughout his career. That led to a slight increase in velocity, but it didn't improve his performance.

"At one point, I thought it was a little hard, harder than it normally was," Estrada said of the changeup. "My velo was up a little bit more, so obviously the chanegup is going to increase in velo also. I noticed that I kind of slowed my arm down, and once I went back to getting my arm through the zone, things got much better."

Estrada noticed the issue midway through the season, and that provides at least a partial explanation behind his turnaround in the second half. Estrada went 0-5 with a 9.52 ERA from June 1-July 21, but over his final 13 starts, Estrada posted a much more reasonable 4.23 ERA. That's still below Estrada's standards, but it was at least closer to the guy who posted a 3.48 and 3.13 ERA the previous two years.

The natural question to ask is why Estrada and the Blue Jays did not discover the problem a bit sooner. There had been plenty of speculation that Estrada was tipping his pitches, and the Rays were used as a primary example. Tampa Bay, in particular, appeared to be teeing off on his changeup, and Estrada struggled with a 10.61 ERA over four starts. This was an organization that Estrada once owned by taking a pair of no-hitters into the seventh inning of the 2015 season.

It turns out Estrada knew what he was doing wrong -- it just took some time to actually have his work in the bullpen translate into games.

"I threw more bullpen [sessions] than I have, because I was trying to get out of that funk," Estrada said. "Unfortunately it took me awhile, but once I got everything figured out, things got much better. Once I feel good, I go off of that. It's all feeling."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Marco Estrada