All Eyes on Pitching Staff in Camp

All Eyes on Pitching Staff in Camp

The focus in the Jays' spring training camp will be on the pitching staff, and it will likely remain there all season long. The big question marks for the Jays in 2007 all revolve around pitching. The lineup is set and established save for the shortstop position, which will bounce back and forth between Royce Clayton and John McDonald.

Every member of the Jays' projected rotation -- Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Gustavo Chacin, John Thomson and Tomo Ohka -- was injured to some extent in 2006. The Jays need their big two, Halladay and Burnett, to have dominating seasons, and Chacin, Thomson and Ohka need to pile up enough innings to take the heat off a bullpen that was used to the point of exhaustion in 2006.

The bullpen of 2007 also has question marks -- it is missing two veteran pieces from 2006, setup man Justin Speier and left-handed specialist Scott Schoeneweis.

The Jays are hoping that hard-throwing Brandon League can replace Speier. If he falters they probably will turn to Jason Frasor, who had an up-and-down season in '06.

They also have to receive more consistency from hard-throwing right-hander Jeremy Accardo.

Offensively, the Jays are set and are expected to be among the league leaders in runs scored thanks to a lineup that added the powerful bat of DH Frank Thomas.

If Ohka and Thomson show they are healthy, then there are virtually no jobs up for grabs save for the 12th member of the bullpen.

WHERE, WHEN: Knology Park, Dunedin, Fla. First exhibition game is March 1 against Boston.

TOP CANDIDATE TO SURPRISE: It's a coin flip between veteran starters John Thomson and Tomo Ohka. Both right-handers are coming to a new team after injury-plagued seasons, and both are being counted on to cement the rotation. An injury-free season by one or both would go a long way in determining the Jays' chances of success.

TOP CANDIDATE TO DISAPPOINT: RHP A.J. Burnett has all the potential in the world but has yet to avoid the injury bug that has plagued his career. Any setback by Burnett, who has the stuff to be a 20-game winner, will be a major disappointment.

AUTHORITY FIGURES: It's a pivotal year for manager John Gibbons (187-187), who took over for Carlos Tosca in August 2004. Gibbons is in the final year of his contract, and any hopes of an extension will be based on how the team performs and how he performs.

The 2006 season was a bumpy one for Gibbons as he had a celebrated clubhouse run-in with DH Shea Hillenbrand -- one that led to Hillenbrand's trade to the Giants -- and an on-field encounter with LHP Ted Lilly, one that turned into a physical encounter beneath the Jays dugout.

Both incidents, though publicly backed by GM J.P. Ricciardi, blemished Gibbons reputation in the eyes of the fans and led to many calling for his dismissal.

Gibbons, though, has a reputation of being a players' manager, and how the team responds, especially in the opening two months, will be critical. A poor start by the Jays could lead to his dismissal.

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