Jays reliever Casey Janssen ready for spring training
Starter Ricky Romero also working on comeback
The sun was nowhere to be seen Thursday and eavestroughs carved puddles into the gravel at rainy Florida Auto Exchange Stadium by early afternoon.
Of course, most Blue Jays players had left by then.
While there is a spring plan to build for the regular season, a newcomer might be forgiven for thinking the early days of baseball pre-season are like daycare for pro athletes. Where else can you go to work and have your choice of two kinds of bubble gum (Double Bubble and Bazooka) plus an array of sunflower seeds — including a dill pickle variety?
Still, it was a good day's work for pitchers Casey Janssen and Ricky Romero.
Both threw from the practice mound, taking another step in their comeback from off-season surgery.
For rehabbing pitchers, making it to the mound only comes after seemingly endless tossing sessions on level ground.
Happ's future uncertain
J.A. Happ chooses his words carefully as reporters circle his locker.
The gist of the conversation is that the Jays' off-season marquee pitching acquisitions have left him somewhat in limbo.
He knows it. And they know it.
Everyone seems to be in a 'we'll see what happens' mode.
"I prepared like I do every off-season, and that's to be a starting pitcher in the big leagues," Happ said when asked if he was comfortable with the circumstances.
"My main focus was getting ready. Obviously, that kind of stuff is out of my control. We'll see what ends up happening."
Pitching in triple-A Buffalo "is not something I'm thinking about right now," he said.
But with a starting rotation made up of R.A Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Ricky Romero, Happ is on the outside looking in.
"We'll see what happens," manager John Gibbons said of Happ. "He deserves a chance to start in the major leagues in some rotation. I mean, he's that good. But he's the odd man out here because we've got five really good ones.
"But over the course of a season, things work out. He could become very valuable to us. In the past when I was here, we were scrambling to find those kind of guys. God forbid something happened and we need somebody, but we've got a pretty good one right there.
"But in time it will all work its way out, whether it's bullpen or what he's doing, we'll have to see."
Added Gibbons: "It's not always good for the individual, but it's always good for the team."
Happ came over in a 10-player trade with Houston last July as the Jays looked for some pitching depth given their injury-plagued starting rotation.
Happ went 3-2 with a 4.46 ERA in six starts and 10 appearances for Toronto, striking out 46 while walking 17.
— The Canadian Press
"It was fun to be on a mound and throwing downhill again," said Janssen, a reliever who had shoulder surgery in November.
"Any time you get a chance to get up on that mound and see a catcher, it feels good," said Romero, a left-handed starter who had his elbow cleaned out in October and had platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections in both knees.
The 31-year-old Janssen, who took over as closer after Sergio Santos had shoulder surgery in July, converted 22 of 25 save opportunities and finished a fine season with a 1-1 record and 2.54 earned-run average.
He is being monitored closely to ensure he does not come back from surgery too fast. He estimated Thursday he was throwing at 70 to 80 per cent of what he is capable of.
Janssen threw about 20 pitches. He'll take the mound again Sunday.
But previously he had, in essence, just been tossing the ball — lengthening the distance and pace over time.
"Today the catcher kind of felt close," he said. "And I'm not saying I was popping the glove but I definitely could see a light at the end of the tunnel."
Manager John Gibbons and other coaches watched from behind the mound at the Jays' training complex.
"Looked good," he said of Janssen. "He wasn't cutting it loose but there were no limitations. ... That's a big step, that's good for his confidence.
Janssen expects to see game action in the first or second week of March (the first pre-season game is Feb. 23) "if all goes well."
"We're going to take it slow and make sure it's right," he said.
Janssen had been working through shoulder issues for most of last season. He had hoped rest might take care of things but eventually opted for surgery, to avoid the issue dragging on into the season.
"I think my body told me this was the right move," he said.
Santos, meanwhile, threw Wednesday and had some pop in his arm judging from the thud with which the ball landed in the catcher's mitt.
Ricky Romero looks to bounce back
Romero had a roller-coaster year in 2012. Named opening day pitcher for the second consecutive season, he raced out to an 8-1 record but eventually tied a franchise record with 13 straight losses. He finished with a 9-14 record and 5.77 ERA in 33 starts.
With the surgery, he had plenty of time in the off-season to ponder a rotten year. Asked how that felt, he replied "Like crap," and laughed.
The 28-year-old Romero looked crisp Thursday, however. He had thrown off a high school mound a few times before camp.
"I really liked what Ricky was doing," said Gibbons. "Looked like the old [Ricky].
"I didn't see him last year when he had his struggles. But I've seen him when he's really good when I was in Kansas City. You know what? He's a pretty good pitcher. He's done a lot of good things at this level. It's going to be a good bounceback year for him
Romero, suggesting that the inability to fix the issues last season caused his problems to snowball mentally, says he is entering this season with "a clean mind."
But he is not blaming last year's problems on his health, saying he was able to pitch.
"I'm not going to put [out] any excuses," he said. "I had a bad year and that's all there is to it. At one point, everybody has to get over it. I'm not going to be the last pitcher to struggle. I'm sure there's going to be plenty more. You just move on."
But he said he noticed he was not recovering as well between starts in 2012. And he said he decided to get it checked out at the end of season when he couldn't rotate it because it was so sore.
His knees have also hurt, been wracked by tendinitis. He continues to rehab those daily, in the wake of some painful off-season PRP injections.
The Jays pitching staff was plagued by injuries last season. But it has been revamped with the addition of marquee starters R.A Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson. Combined with Brandon Morrow and Romero, it looks to be a formidable starting rotation able to eat up innings.
That means leaving the arms in the bullpen fresh and ready.
"It's nice to be in the 'pen, knowing that these guys are going to give us quality starts often. And they're going to keep us in games," said Janssen. "And keeping us in games probably is going to lead to a lot of wins."
As Gibbons notes, "Good teams are thick." And a talented rotation means fewer losing streaks, since someone will step up to end the rut.
"With our offence and some other parts of our game, we've got a chance to have some long winning streaks too. Depth is huge."
Romero also is psyched at what lies ahead.
"It's going to be fun to watch," he said.