'Woo hoo!' Blue Jays thrilled to end camp healthy
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Blue Jays lost to the Phillies, 6-5, on Tuesday at BayCare Ballpark, and manager John Schneider couldn’t have been happier afterward.
“We did it. Woo hoo!” Toronto’s skipper exclaimed.
There are plenty of items on a team’s to-do list entering each spring. But above all else, every club wants to make it through the exhibition season healthy.
After 33 games in 39 days, the Blue Jays reached the conclusion of their spring slate. They can check that item off their list.
“Looking back, it was a good camp. It was productive,” said Schneider. “But [I’m] definitely ready to get the season going. … Everyone is healthy right now -- knock on wood."
In fact, Toronto will open the season with a few players on the injured list, but two -- lefty starter Hyun Jin Ryu and righty reliever Chad Green -- were never going to be ready for the start of the year. Both are on the mend following Tommy John surgery last summer. Right-hander Mitch White is dealing with right elbow inflammation after being slowed by a right shoulder impingement in January.
But that’s basically it.
“We are ready to rock and roll,” said left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, who struck out six of the eight batters he faced Tuesday.
The Blue Jays don’t have to look far to understand how good they have it when it comes to their roster being whole on Opening Day. The Phillies, Tuesday’s opponent, lost veteran first baseman Rhys Hoskins for the season to a torn ACL in his left knee on Thursday. Meanwhile, the American League East-rival Yankees will begin the year without 60 percent of their expected starting rotation.
The Blue Jays have no such worries.
“That’s huge. That usually doesn’t happen in Spring Training; there’s always some guys that go down,” said closer Jordan Romano, who admitted that he took a big exhale following his final spring outing Monday.
“I don’t know if it’s luck or that everyone just really prepared coming into this year, but we got through it mostly unscathed.”
Added second baseman Whit Merrifield: “We’ve got the full squad ready to go.”
And it is indeed ready to go.
Following a shortened Spring Training in 2022, pitcher Chris Bassitt said this camp felt like it lasted a full year. Merrifield admitted he would have liked to get the season underway a couple of weeks ago.
“Spring is exhausting and tiring and way too long, so we’re all excited to leave,” he added.
The Blue Jays were set to fly out of Florida and arrive in St. Louis around 7:15 p.m. ET Tuesday. They will hold a workout on Wednesday. Then it’s just about time for the show to begin, with ace Alek Manoah on the mound at 4 p.m. ET Thursday against the Cardinals.
“I think if you look around this locker room, the sky is the limit,” Manoah said. “And if there’s a limit higher than that, it’s higher.”
Last spot goes to Lukes
When the Blue Jays land in St. Louis, outfielder Nathan Lukes will have his wife and daughter waiting for him. His parents, brother and sister-in-law will also be in attendance for Thursday’s game.
They may all get to see him make his MLB debut that day.
The 28-year-old Lukes was informed Monday that he made the club, grabbing the final spot on the roster. Schneider and general manager Ross Atkins gave him the good news, which came one season after Lukes was among the last players who didn’t make the cut out of camp. The lefty-swinging Lukes will serve as a backup outfielder and possible pinch-runner.
“Can’t really tell you how I feel,” Lukes said following Tuesday’s game. “I’m probably not going to feel it until Opening Day.”
Lukes put together a .286/.367/.429 slash line in 42 at-bats this spring. He recorded two doubles, two triples and six walks to just four strikeouts. He handled all three outfield positions well and made a smooth running catch a step in front of the center-field wall Tuesday.
“I love center field,” he said. “It’s fun just being kind of the captain out there and having free range of the outfield. It’s fun. Really fun.”
Lukes remembers Schneider telling him at the start of Spring Training to be nothing more than the player he is. The stakes were going to be high, but he was reminded to just be himself, have fun and keep his head down. At the end, maybe something good would happen.
“Sure enough,” Lukes said, “it happened.”