Fletcher key to Blue Jays pitching

The Toronto Blue Jays will depend on catcher Darrin Fletcher more than ever this season.

Fletcher, 35, brings 13 years of major league experience to a pitching staff whose oldest starter was 14 when Fletcher made his major league debut on Sept. 10, 1989.

Chris Carpenter is 26, Roy Halladay, 24, Luke Prokopec, 24, and Brandon Lyon, 21.

"We have actually gone young for a while now," Fletcher said at Blue Jays spring training camp in Dunedin, Fla., on Tuesday.

"I think in 1998, we had a veteran staff -- the (Roger) Clemens staff. Carpenter was really our young guy in the fifth spot.

"The last three years, 3-4-5 have been the young guys. This year, Nos. 1-2 will be young with Carpenter No. 1.

"I am used to working with young pitchers, so it won't be anything new."

With Billy Koch traded to the Oakland Athletics, Kelvim Escobar becomes Toronto's new closer.

In 59 appearances last season, the talented, yet enigmatic righthander went 6-8 with a 3.50 earned run average and 121 strikeouts in 126 innings.

"Escobar has wanted the position," Fletcher said. "He has wanted to have the role as the stopper after bouncing around from starter to reliever to setup man.

"Let's see how he responds. We all know that he has the stuff and we're counting on him."

Fletcher, who sports a nifty .993 lifetime fielding percentage, will also catch a new Canadian arm out of the bullpen.

Chad Ricketts of Waterloo, Ont., was acquired from the Dodgers in the deal that saw all-star Paul Quantrill, a native of Port Hope, Ont., head to Los Angeles.

"It's too bad that Paul isn't here," said Ricketts, who hails from Waterloo, Ont. "Canadians have to stick together in the baseball world."

Ricketts is 30-26 with a 3.38 ERA in 308 minor league appearances, all but 23 as a reliever, since being drafted in the ninth-round -- 231st overall -- by the Chicago Cubs in 1995.

"We think he's a guy who can help us in the bullpen," Blue Jays rookie general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "He's going to get the opportunity to do it this spring training."

"I grew up being a Blue Jays fan," said Ricketts, whose parents moved to Dunedin in 1991 to help further his career.

"It's pretty neat seeing the guys you used to watch, like Carlos Delgado."

Or Fletcher, for that matter.

"He can be the balancing guy to calm them down in situations and think through situations," Riccardi said of Fletcher. "It's always nice to have a veteran guy back there with the young pitchers."

Fletcher is also a career .270 hitter with 121 homers and 561 RBIs in 1,200 games with the Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Montreal Expos and Blue Jays.

He struggled at the plate last season though, hitting only .226 with 11 home runs and 56 RBIs in 134 games.