Notes: Limiting stolen bases in 2007
Gibbons says if pitchers use slide step, problem should fall
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- With arms crossed, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons stood behind a row of pitching mounds, watching a group of hurlers deliver an array of fastballs on Saturday.
The first workout for pitchers and catchers was in full swing at the Bobby Mattick Training Center, but Gibbons was using the time to mainly get acquainted with some of the new faces in camp. As Spring Training wears on, though, Gibbons and his coaching staff plan on keeping a closer eye on the pitchers' feet.
Gibbons would like his pitching staff to get quicker to home plate, mixing in a slide step more often to help stop the running game. Last season, the Blue Jays allowed an American League-worst 130 stolen bases, and the catchers weren't the only ones at fault.
"There's certain guys in the league who you're going to have trouble throwing out anyway," Gibbons said. "But there's certain guys that you've got to get, too. We've got to give our catchers a better chance this year."
The Yankees (139 stolen bases), Devil Rays (134) and Orioles (121) each finished in the top 10 for stolen bases in the Majors last season, and they ranked second, third and fourth, respectively, in the American League. Considering that Toronto plays 57 games combined against those AL East division rivals in 2007, it wants to try to get better at holding runners.
Gibbons used right-hander A.J. Burnett as an example of a pitcher who uses a high leg kick, which can make it easier for runners to steal. One argument against having strikeout pitchers such as Burnett use a slide step with a runner on base is that it can potentially decrease his pitch velocity.
"That's not something he needs to do every pitch," Gibbons said about Burnett's leg kick. "Then you've got the ol' theory of, 'Well, if guys get in scoring position, this guy's got the ability to strike guys out.' Yeah, OK, but it might be a little easier to just keep them out of scoring position, too."
The one group that Gibbons would really like to work on getting quicker to the plate is the middle relievers. In the late innings, he said that it's important for the bullpen not to allow any unnecessary bases.
Nothing personal: John Thomson caught reporters off guard in January, when he made a negative comment about Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca. On Saturday, Thomson said he didn't mean for his remarks to seem like a personal attack.
"It was nothing personal," Thomson said. "I don't know Paul. Personally, I've never met the guy. ... I said some things that were on my mind that I probably shouldn't have said that stemmed from something that happened three years ago."
Thomson didn't go into detail on what the incident was, but he insisted that his comments were taken out of context. Thomson said he was trying to express that one of the reasons he signed with the Jays was because he liked the idea of working with Toronto catcher Gregg Zaun.
After signing with Toronto, Thomson said, "As far as just looking at Paul Lo Duca across the field, I'm not really into how he acts behind the plate. I know a bit about Gregg Zaun and I know he wants to win and he's not going to let anything get in his way to do that, and I like that."
On Saturday, Thomson said: "That was the first time I ever said something towards somebody like that. I didn't mean it derogatory. I didn't mean it personally attacking him or anything like that. He goes out and plays the game. I just think I was a better fit over here."
Staying in the 'pen: During the offseason, the Blue Jays considered the possibility that left-hander Scott Downs might still be an emergency solution for the back end of the rotation. On Friday, general manager J.P. Ricciardi said Toronto plans on keeping Downs in the bullpen.
"I think Downs is better suited to be in the 'pen," Ricciardi said. "Downs has done a good job for us the last few years, so maybe he becomes the left-handed specialist or the guy who can give you that one inning."
Either/or: If Shaun Marcum doesn't make the cut for one of Toronto's rotation spots, Gibbons said that the right-hander would likely have a job in the bullpen. Pitchers Casey Janssen, Dustin McGowan and Ty Taubenheim would probably start the year in the rotation at Triple-A Syracuse, though.
"Say Marcum doesn't work into the rotation, then he's going to pitch out of the 'pen for us," Gibbons said. "We think he can do either job very well."
What's up doc? Blue Jays pitchers and catchers underwent routine physicals on Saturday morning, and almost everyone checked out OK. Right-hander Brandon League has a tight hamstring, but Gibbons said he should be fine in a few days.
Snowed in: All of Toronto's coaches have made it to Florida, with the exception of third-base coach Brian Butterfield. Bad weather has delayed Butterfield's trip to Spring Training from Maine, but he's expected to arrive on Sunday.
Quotable: "We're a very good defensive fielding team with our pitching staff. We do all those things very well. That's the one area that we don't -- holding runners." -- Gibbons
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.