BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had a little bit of fun at the expense of his good friend, John Gibbons, during the Blue Jays' eventual 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh on Thursday afternoon.Toronto and Pittsburgh were locked into a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the fourth when Gibbons
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had a little bit of fun at the expense of his good friend, John Gibbons, during the Blue Jays' eventual 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh on Thursday afternoon.
Toronto and Pittsburgh were locked into a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the fourth when Gibbons removed veteran lefty Craig Breslow after he faced just one batter. It was the type of situational matchup that rarely happens during Spring Training and when Gibbons walked to the mound, he received some good-natured jabs from the other side about his strategic move. The ribbing had Gibbons laughing after the game but he had a reason for the move.
"That's what Breslow is," Gibbons said. "Be fair with him and give him as many looks against left-handers, because that's kind of what he is. He came down to the [bullpen] and threw a bit more after."
Gibbons' goal in the fourth was to simulate a regular-season game. Breslow was called upon to face the leadoff lefty and then Al Alburquerque entered to face a trio of righties. The relievers are competing for two jobs up for grabs in the bullpen. Roberto Osuna, Dennis Tepera, Danny Barnes, Aaron Loup and Seunghwan Oh have secure roles.
Ideally, the Blue Jays would carry two lefties. Breslow is fighting for the second spot alongside rookies Tim Mayza and Matt Dermody. Alburquerque is battling for the other job against John Axford, Rhiner Cruz and possibly Joe Biagini. Three of those pitchers made an appearance against Pittsburgh, with Cruz walking one in a scoreless third and Alburquerque striking out two and walking one in two-thirds of an inning.
"[Alburquerque] has always had a great slider," Gibbons said. "He has always had a great arm and has been very valuable. He's always been tough on right-handers. I can remember from his days in Detroit when he'd run into our team, which was basically right-handed. He came in and it was almost over. He looks good. He still has something left."
• Outfielder Randal Grichuk is expected to be out of action for at least the next few days with a sprained left wrist. Grichuk sustained the injury while making a diving grab in Tuesday's 9-8 loss to the Yankees. The injury is not considered serious, but the Blue Jays intend to take a cautious approach just to make sure there are no setbacks with more than three weeks remaining until Opening Day.
• With the Blue Jays on the road to face Pittsburgh on Thursday, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki stayed behind in Dunedin to go through a full round of batting practice. He also continues to participate in some light fielding drills, but he remains without a timetable to start running and it's not clear when he will make his spring debut.
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Tulowitzki is questionable for the start of the year, and Aledmys Diaz will become the starter if Tulowitzki needs some time on the disabled list. A DL stint also would open up another spot on the roster and create a pathway for Mpho' Ngoepe to break camp as Toronto's utility infielder alongside Yangervis Solarte.
"I know [Ngoepe] doesn't have a lot of time in the big leagues, but everybody thinks he can handle himself," Gibbons said. "That's one of the main reasons we picked him up early in the offseason."
• Toronto prospect Rowdy Tellez will be away from the team for at least the next few days because of personal reasons. Tellez's mother battled cancer last year and the team passed along word that she is currently in poor health.
Pillar performing well
Center fielder Kevin Pillar has gotten off to a fast start in Florida. Pillar finished Thursday's game 3-for-3, with three singles and an RBI. Pillar has six hits in seven at-bats this spring with a pair of runs scored. He got off to a hot start last year during the regular season with a .313 average on May 7, but ultimately finished the year batting .256.
What Gibbons has liked the most from Pillar this spring is that he has been working on going the opposite way, and putting the ball in play instead of trying to increase his power numbers, which had been a problem in the past.
"That's what he has to do," Gibbons said. "When he got to the big leagues, that's what he always did. When he gets into trouble, I think his swing gets a little long, maybe gets a little too power conscious. He's strong, he'll hit his fair share of home runs, but he's good at going the other way. That's the type of hitter he is, and the type he should be."
Left-hander Thomas Pannone will make his first start of the spring when the Blue Jays visit the Twins on Friday afternoon with first pitch scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET. Audio for the game will be broadcast live on Gameday Audio and on an exclusive webcast.
Pannone is expected to open the season in the rotation for Triple-A Buffalo, but will be competing to be one of the first call-ups. Pannone was part of the return for reliever Joe Smith at last year's non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays
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