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Janssen, Santos to battle it out at spring training
It’s hard to imagine the Toronto Blue Jays having many on-field concerns, given general manager Alex Anthopoulos’s off-season shopping spree that netted manager John Gibbons three proven major league pitchers, a four-time all-star shortstop and the 2012 All-Star Game MVP.
But Casey Janssen, last season’s closer, threw up a red flag Tuesday on a Toronto sports radio station by saying he hasn’t returned to full health following minor shoulder surgery in November.
The right-hander attempted to soothe any worried fans listening to The Fan 590 by revealing he "would be shocked if I wasn’t ready to go," for the Jays’ season opener April 2 against the visiting Cleveland Indians.
As for Sergio Santos, Toronto’s stopper to open the 2012 campaign and Gibbons’s Plan B should Janssen not be ready to close games in three weeks, he expects to be 100 per cent when the team breaks camp in Dunedin, Fla.
"I threw a bullpen [session on Feb. 7] and [my arm] was at about 90 per cent and it felt great," said Santos, who missed the final five months of last season with soreness in the labrum of his shoulder.
But with two pitchers coming off surgical procedures, some doubt has been cast over the most anticipated Blue Jays spring training since the team won back-to-back World Series in 1992 and ’93.
However, there seems to be little doubt in the eyes of Gibbons, who reiterated on Tuesday that Janssen is his ninth-inning man to start the season.
"Casey’s a little behind but there’s nothing to worry about," Gibbons told reporters. "We’re just going to take it slow. He’s our guy."
The case for Janssen
The 31-year-old Janssen flourished in the role after taking over from an injured Santos last April, posting a career-best 22 saves in 25 chances along with a 2.54 earned-run average in 63 2/3 innings pitched.
"Sergio missed the whole [2012 season], and that’s big in this case," said Gibbons, who returns for a second stint as Toronto's manager. "It’s always good to have more than one guy to do those jobs. He’s only been [closing games] for a couple of years."
Actually, not even that long, skip.
Santos, 29, entered the closing discussion in 2011 while a member of the Chicago White Sox. He showed he could handle the job with 30 saves and a 3.55 ERA while striking out 92 batters in 63 1/3 innings.
His shoulder issues might be traced to the latter part of that season when the hard-throwing righty gave up nine earned runs in 8 2/3 innings during the season’s final month.
Santos’s ineffectiveness carried into the 2012 campaign after Anthopoulos acquired him in a Dec. 6, 2011 trade for emerging minor league pitcher Nestor Molina. He blew his first two save chances and surrendered five earned runs in as many innings last April.
The converted shortstop tried to avoid surgery with rest, eventually giving way to renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache at the end of July.
The case for Santos
When healthy, Santos has shown the ability to throw a 97-mile-per-hour fastball, complemented by a nasty slider. He said time away from the game has him more determined this spring.
"I’m coming out with a lot to prove," he said. "I challenge myself to prove those critics wrong and to prove I’m only going to get better. Since November and into December I’ve pretty much been back to a normal throwing schedule."
Unlike Santos, Janssen is not the fireballer type. He’s your classic non-closer who attacks hitters aggressively.
Five years ago, Janssen had surgery to repair a torn labrum that cost him the entire 2008 season.
Like Santos, the native of Orange, Calif., will try his best to get into game shape over the next seven weeks.
"I’m definitely going to use every bit of the spring to get to that one hundred per cent level," Janssen said.
It would certainly make the spring outlook in Toronto a lot brighter.