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Tulo to miss Opening Day with bone spur

Alford scratched due to hamstring; Axford, Clippard proving value
MLB.com @jonmorosi

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki won't be ready for Opening Day, manager John Gibbons said Tuesday.

Tulowitzki did not play after July 28 last year because of ligament damage in his right ankle. He has been battling a bone spur in his right heel this spring, and while he has taken ground balls and batting practice, his inability to run at full speed means he won't be ready when the regular season begins in a little more than two weeks.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki won't be ready for Opening Day, manager John Gibbons said Tuesday.

Tulowitzki did not play after July 28 last year because of ligament damage in his right ankle. He has been battling a bone spur in his right heel this spring, and while he has taken ground balls and batting practice, his inability to run at full speed means he won't be ready when the regular season begins in a little more than two weeks.

"I think you can write Tulo off [for Opening Day] right now," Gibbons said. "He's not ready to play in game action. It wouldn't be fair to him, either, because he's going to need to build up and get some at-bats, really test that thing out. Make sure when he comes back, he's really ready to go. I think you can eliminate that [possibility of him being ready for the opener]."

Tulowitzki, 33, is coming off his least productive season since his rookie year. Injuries limited him to 66 games in 2017, and he finished with a .678 OPS.

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"When Tulo's ready to go, that's his job," Gibbons said. "I've been watching him work out, swing the bat. It's all been BP, of course, but I think he looks great right now. Now it's just a matter of getting him running. That's the only thing hampering him now. We'll see how that develops."

In a decision linked to Tulowitzki's injury and Toronto's overall middle-infield plans, Gibbons said the club is likely to carry seven relievers on the Opening Day roster.

Why? With seven relievers, the Blue Jays should have the necessary roster space to carry four middle infielders: Devon Travis, Yangervis Solarte, Aledmys Diaz and Gift Ngoepe. Such an arrangement would be difficult if Toronto had an eighth relief pitcher on the roster -- an increasingly popular strategy among Major League teams.

Solarte has Major League experience at every infield position, which is especially beneficial given Travis' injury history and need for regular days off.

"[Diaz] is a shortstop -- that gives us coverage there," Gibbons said. "He comes from a good organization [the Cardinals] and has done some good things over there. We feel good about that.

"We picked up Gift from Pittsburgh. He's as good of a defender as you're going to find in baseball. The thinking on Solarte is, he's not going to play over there at short a lot, but he might be able to fill in [there] a game a week, to make sure we get his bat in the lineup somehow. We feel good with where we're at right now."

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Injury to spring star Alford

Outfielder Anthony Alford, a Spring Training standout, was scratched from Tuesday's travel roster because of a right hamstring injury. Alford was due to be evaluated by team medical personnel on Tuesday. In a telephone interview, Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins told MLB.com he's confident Alford will return to game action "very quickly."

Alford, 23, was unlikely to make the Opening Day roster, anyway, in part because fellow right-handed-hitting outfielder Teoscar Hernandez has the edge in Major League experience. But Alford's strong spring has put him into consideration for an in-season callup.

"I've seen such a huge improvement in [Alford]," Gibbons said. "He's really got the whole game. He's a good outfielder, a good baserunner. He's got power. What I think is important -- especially for young hitters -- is he uses the whole field. He's not in there yanking everything."

Alford has surpassed 100 games played only once in six professional seasons, due to injuries and time spent playing college football. So what does Alford need to do in the Minors to begin the season?

"Just play 'X' amount of games, experience-wise, so he runs through every situation that might happen along the way," Gibbons said. "He doesn't need to start focusing too much on this or that. Just go play. He's such a natural talent, things will take care of itself."

Meanwhile, the 25-year-old Hernandez continued his superb spring with a home run in Tuesday's 13-6 win over the Braves, his third in the Grapefruit League this year. He's hitting .357.

"He should hold down a spot here for a number of years," Gibbons said. "When that happens, I couldn't tell you."

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Bullpen taking shape

John Axford and Tyler Clippard, both in camp on Minor League contracts, are increasingly likely to make the team's Opening Day roster.

Axford -- who grew up in Port Dover, Ontario -- has shown no signs of the struggles he endured in 2017, when he posted a 6.43 ERA in 22 appearances for the A's. Axford allowed a solo home run to Freddie Freeman on Tuesday and spoke afterward about falling in love with baseball by watching the Blue Jays win the 1992 and '93 World Series. The 34-year-old has yet to attend a home opener at Rogers Centre.

"I've seen, to this point, everything I need to see," Gibbons said. "He kind of reinvented himself throwing the two-seam fastball. He was primarily a four-seam guy [in the past]. [He's] throwing a little cutter in there, instead of just his breaking ball.

"What's jumped out at me is he's keeping that thing in the zone. What little I've known in the past, at times he could scatter, but really that hasn't happened at all this spring. That's encouraging. And he still throws really, really hard. He should be pitching in the big leagues, no doubt."

Axford and Clippard will become even more important if projected setup man Seung Hwan Oh continues to be held out of game action while awaiting his work visa. Atkins said the team hopes to have an update on Oh's status this week.

Up next

The Blue Jays are off Wednesday before resuming their Grapefruit League schedule with a road trip to JetBlue Park at Fenway South for a meeting with the American League East rival Red Sox on Thursday at 1:05 p.m. ET on MLB.TV. Randal Grichuk and Steve Pearce are expected to rejoin the lineup after dealing with minor injuries. Gibbons said Josh Donaldson is expected to return from a calf injury during the next several days, but his status for Thursday is unclear. Left-hander Ryan Borucki is Toronto's scheduled starter; Borucki was optioned to Triple-A earlier this week, but club officials would like him to continue pitching on his regular turn without being concerned about his roster status.

Jon Paul Morosi is a reporter for MLB.com.

Toronto Blue Jays, Troy Tulowitzki