Notes: Visa issues holding up hurlers
Chacin's rotation spot up in air; Gibbons ponders early lineup
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- By the time pitchers Tomo Ohka and Victor Zambrano are expected to arrive in Florida, perhaps the typical "Florida weather" will have made it back to Toronto's spring site as well.
Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi, wearing a windbreaker to guard him against the unusually cool temperatures, said that Ohka and Zambrano weren't able to travel to the United States due to visa problems.
Ohka and Zambrano are still in Japan and Venezuela, respectively, and are both expected to join the rest of the Blue Jays' pitchers at the Bobby Mattick Training Center by Tuesday or Wednesday at the earliest.
"It's just some paperwork," Ricciardi said on Friday, when Toronto's pitchers and catchers were required to report to Spring Training. "Hopefully they'll be in next week, but they've been throwing, so that's helpful."
Ohka, who signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 million with the Jays in January, is one of the leading candidates for a spot at the back end of Toronto's rotation. John Thomson, Josh Towers and Shaun Marcum will each be competing with Ohka, who went 4-5 with a 4.82 ERA in 18 starts for Milwaukee in 2006.
Zambrano also signed a contract with Toronto in January, but his was a Minor League deal with a base salary of $500,000. Zambrano, who made $3 million last year, became a free agent this offseason after the Mets decided against offering him a contract for 2007.
A severe arm injury limited Zambrano to just five starts with the Mets a year ago, and he underwent reconstructive elbow surgery in May. Toronto doesn't expect Zambrano, who is 45-41 with a 4.45 ERA for his career, to be available until May or June, according to Ricciardi's estimation. The Jays will determine whether Zambrano will be in the mix as a starter or a reliever when he's healthy.
Typically, rehabilitation from an elbow ligament replacement operation can take between nine months to a year. By the end of Spring Training, Zambrano will be 10 months removed from the procedure. Ricciardi pointed out that Zambrano does appear to be ahead of schedule, though.
"He's actually throwing off a mound and his arm strength seems to be coming back," Ricciardi said. "So maybe he's a little further ahead than we even thought.
"I don't think he's a candidate right now for the fourth and fifth spots," he added. "We'll know more once we get him here and see him, but we're in no rush with him."
The third person: On paper, left-hander Gustavo Chacin is listed as Toronto's No. 3 starter, and a select group of pitchers are competing for the Nos. 4 and 5 spots. In reality, though, it's not set in stone that Chacin will follow Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett in the rotation.
Chacin, who is 23-14 in his career as a starter for the Jays, could wind up in one of the final two spots when Spring Training is all said and done. Ricciardi said he'd like to see the 26-year-old southpaw improve in some areas before he can be considered the front-runner for the third spot on the staff.
"I don't know," Ricciardi said. "I think Spring Training will determine [if Chacin is our No. 3 starter]. I think Gus has some things that he has to work on before he really becomes a legitimate three."
One thing that Ricciardi said Chacin needs to work on is being more efficient with his pitch count. Last season, the lefty averaged just over five innings per outing and 16.75 pitches per inning. In 2005, when Chacin won 13 games and logged over 200 innings, he averaged nearly six innings per start and 15.99 pitches per frame.
"He shouldn't have 80 pitches in three innings," Ricciardi said. "He's got to learn to take advantage of what his plusses are. He's got a good fastball and a good breaking ball. We'd like to be able to get him into the sixth inning at 100 pitches or less."
Lining things up: The Blue Jays will focus plenty of attention on how the rotation and bullpen shape up this spring, but manager John Gibbons also has to sort out the batting order.
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Gibbons has a lineup filled with offensive weapons, but it's still not completely clear what the order will be. On Friday, Gibbons said that the biggest question is where he'll slot first baseman Lyle Overbay -- the only true left-handed starter -- and right fielder Alex Rios into the lineup.
Gibbons said he's considered the possibility of having center fielder Vernon Wells bat second and moving Overbay into the third position. Though Gibbons indicated that's it's more likely that Wells will remain in the No. 3 hole. Rios could spend time in the No. 2 spot, because Gibbons would like to utilize the outfielder's speed at the top of the order.
"Basically, what I'm looking at is we're not a fast team," Gibbons said. "We've got a few guys that can move and we don't want to necessarily sandwich them in behind some of the guys who don't run as well.
"They can all hit and I think some of the guys can hit in different roles," he added. "It's just, which way are we the most dangerous?"
Quotable: "I think as the spring plays out, we'll be in a better position to know who's shopping, who's buying. Right now, we're pretty comfortable with what we've got." -- Ricciardi, on the possibility of making any more moves before the season starts
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.