Blue Jays' Opening Day roster set

Axford, Clippard prevail in battle for final two spots in bullpen

March 29th, 2018

TORONTO -- and made the cut as the Blue Jays officially announced their 25-man roster prior to Thursday's Opening Day game against the Yankees.

Clippard and Axford were the clear front-runners in a crowded competition for the final two spots in the Blue Jays' bullpen this spring. They beat out fellow relievers Al Alburquerque, , and for the final spots.

To make room for the two relievers on the 40-man roster, shortstop was placed on the 60-day disabled list with bilateral heel bone spurs, while left-hander was designated for assignment.

Tulowitzki arrived in Spring Training plagued by bone spurs after rehabbing a right ankle injury during the offseason. He was slow to progress throughout camp, and his timeline was initially pushed back from Opening Day to the end of April -- and now at least until the end of May. and will handle the duties at shortstop during his absence.

Here's a closer look at the full breakdown of Toronto's 25-man roster.

Catchers (2): and

It's status quo for the Blue Jays' backstops. and will offer insurance in the Minor Leagues, but neither one had a real chance to head north at the end of camp. Both prospects are competing to become the first callup if either Martin or Maile goes down with an injury.

First base (1):

The 31-year-old will have the difficult task of trying to repeat his performance from a year ago. Smoak set career highs in every major statistical category, including home runs (38), RBIs (90) and WAR (3.2). The concern is that Smoak posted a .717 OPS over the final two months.

Second base (1):

The 27-year-old was one of the most positive developments for the Blue Jays in Spring Training. Travis became a full participant in camp a little bit earlier than expected following last year's rght knee surgery, and all signs point to him being 100 percent for Opening Day. He's expected to hit first or second in the batting order, and he is one of the biggest wild cards this team has.

Shortstop (1): Diaz

Tulowitzki was extremely limited throughout camp, and he did not look like a guy who was going to be back in the lineup any time soon. Diaz takes over as the starting shortstop during Tulo's absence, and he'll look to regain the form from 2016 that saw him make the National League All-Star team with the Cardinals.

Third base (1):Josh Donaldson

The 2015 American League MVP Award winner dealt with a sore right shoulder early in Spring Training, and Donaldson also had some minor cramping in his right calf muscle, but he was fine over the final two weeks of camp. He's the centerpiece of Toronto's lineup, and after finishing '17 on a tear, injuries might be the only thing that could stop him from contending for the league's top honor again this season.

Designated hitter (1):

Morales starts the year as the Blue Jays' everyday DH, but he'll need to overcome last year's poor results to maintain a regular presence in the lineup. Regardless of what happens, Morales will be in the lineup more often than not, but if he struggles early, Toronto could start rotating other players such as Travis and Donaldson through the DH spot for regular periods of rest.

Utility infielders (2): and Ngoepe

A case could be made that the Blue Jays would be better off carrying another reliever instead of two backup infielders, but Toronto maintained all along that this would be the configuration people should expect. Manager John Gibbons wants the added depth to make sure Travis gets enough rest at second, and the jury is still out on Diaz as an everyday option at short.

Outfielders (4):, Steve Pearce, and

Granderson will start in left field against righties, and Pearce will get the call against lefties. Pillar and Grichuk should be everyday players, and if anyone goes down with an injury, then will earn a promotion from the Minors. Prospect needs some additional time at Triple-A Buffalo, but there's a lot of depth to work from here. The question is whether the ceiling of this current group is high enough.

Starting pitchers (5):J.A. Happ, , , and

Happ receives the honor of starting Opening Day for the first time in his career, while a healthy Sanchez gets the nod in Game 2. Stroman's situation will have to be closely monitored early in the season, because he did not get properly stretched out this spring following a right shoulder injury. Stroman should be limited to around 85 pitches in his season debut, but by starting Game 4, he allows the Blue Jays to avoid using a second lefty in the four-game series vs. New York.

Relief pitchers (7):, , Axford, , Danny Barnes, and Clippard

Axford and Clippard locked down the final two spots, and now it's about Gibbons trying to find the best mix. Osuna is the undisputed closer here, but Oh and Axford will be competing to become the primary eighth-inning setup man. Clippard and his ideal splits essentially can be used as a second lefty specialist, while Tepera and Barnes might need to go multiple innings because of Toronto's lack of a long reliever.