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Blue Jays have leadoff, 'pen roles to cement

MLB.com @gregorMLB

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The countdown is officially on: Blue Jays vs. Yankees on Thursday afternoon at Rogers Centre. Opening Day is almost here.

Left-hander J.A. Happ will make the first Opening Day start of his career when the Blue Jays open their season at home for the first time in five years. New York will counter with right-hander Luis Severino as these two teams kick off a four-game series, with first pitch scheduled for 3:37 ET.

Here are a few of the things you need to know before the big day. Projected lineup, key roles and injury updates as Major League Baseball closes the door on Spring Training and puts its focus on the 162-game grind.

View Full Game Coverage

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The countdown is officially on: Blue Jays vs. Yankees on Thursday afternoon at Rogers Centre. Opening Day is almost here.

Left-hander J.A. Happ will make the first Opening Day start of his career when the Blue Jays open their season at home for the first time in five years. New York will counter with right-hander Luis Severino as these two teams kick off a four-game series, with first pitch scheduled for 3:37 ET.

Here are a few of the things you need to know before the big day. Projected lineup, key roles and injury updates as Major League Baseball closes the door on Spring Training and puts its focus on the 162-game grind.

View Full Game Coverage

Projected Opening Day lineup
1. Curtis Granderson, LF
2. Devon Travis, 2B
3. Josh Donaldson, 3B
4. Justin Smoak, 1B
5. Russell Martin, C
6. Kendrys Morales, DH
7. Randal Grichuk, RF
8. Aledmys Diaz, SS
9. Kevin Pillar, CF
LHP J.A. Happ, SP

Key roles 
• The top of the Blue Jays' lineup remains a bit uncertain, but Granderson seems like the favorite to lead off vs righties. With Severino on the mound, Granderson likely will be in the top spot. But when CC Sabathia starts later in the series, Granderson should take a seat on the bench in favor of Steve Pearce. When Pearce starts, Travis should become the leadoff man, while Donaldson and Smoak also would move up one spot in the order.

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Yangervis Solarte will not be in the Opening Day lineup, but he should receive plenty of playing time this season. Travis is expected to receive at least one or two days off a week as the Blue Jays want to monitor his workload following last year's right knee surgery. Then there will be occasional starts at third so the Blue Jays can give Donaldson a partial rest by using him at DH.

• The competition for specific roles in the bullpen will be worth monitoring during the first couple of weeks. Roberto Osuna is the undisputed closer, but the regular setup role remains up for grabs. Seung Hwan Oh and John Axford are logical candidates for the eighth inning, but defined roles also will need to be found for Ryan Tepera and Tyler Clippard. Performance will dictate a lot of this so the relievers cannot afford to get off to a slow start. 

Injury updates
• Grichuk is expected to be ready for the start of the season, but his spring wasn't exactly ideal. He was sidelined early in camp with a sprained left wrist, and a strained rib cage forced him to miss even more time in mid-March. Grichuk returned to the Blue Jays' lineup last week, but he hasn't had much of an opportunity to find a rhythm.

Marcus Stroman dealt with soreness in his right shoulder early in camp, but he's getting ready for the season just in time. Stroman is scheduled to make his final spring start on Monday night against the Cardinals and will be limited to about 70 pitches. That should put him in a position to be in the 85-pitch range for Toronto's fourth game of the season.

Troy Tulowitzki is out until at least the end of April with a bone spur in his right foot. Diaz is Toronto's starting shortstop until Tulowitzki eventually returns. ... Outfielder Anthony Alford is out another two to four weeks with a Grade 2 strain of his right hamstring. ... Rookie reliever Carlos Ramirez returned late in camp from a right shoulder issue and has since been optioned to 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.

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