Notes: Ohka arrives at Jays camp
Right-hander will be competing for a spot in the rotation
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- When Tomo Ohka emerged from Toronto's clubhouse Wednesday afternoon, he was immediately greeted by a crowd of reporters -- the regulars who cover the Blue Jays and members of the Japanese press.
It wasn't nearly the same as on Sunday, though, when more than 200 reporters made the trek to Boston's spring site in Fort Myers, Fla., to witness the arrival of Japanese pitching phenom Daisuke Matsuzaka.
"Tomo mania" was drastically different, especially considering that the Japanese media was outnumbered by the Toronto press corps. If it was any consolation, it was a considerably larger turnout than when Ohka first arrived on the Major League scene in 1999.
"Nothing. Nobody," said Ohka, referring to how many Japanese reporters were on hand for his debut as a big-league pitcher in the United States. "It's crazy. I saw [Matsuzaka] on TV. He just threw in the bullpen. Nothing happened. But he just came here. He's special for the Japanese."
Ohka's first day in camp with the Blue Jays consisted of a 10-minute throwing session on a mound, followed by a few running drills and a slow walk back to the clubhouse. His workout was brief, but it was roughly midnight in Japan when Ohka was finished.
The 30-year-old right-hander made the 15-hour journey to Florida from his home in Kyoto, Japan, on Tuesday. His travel was delayed due to visa issues, and Ohka may still need a few days to recover from the jet lag.
"I'm a little bit sleepy," said Ohka, who said he was looking forward to turning in early Wednesday night.
The reception for Ohka wasn't nearly as significant as the one Matsuzaka received, but that doesn't mean Toronto's new starter won't play an important role for the Jays this season. This spring, he's in competition with John Thomson, Josh Towers and Shaun Marcum for one of the two open spots at the back end of the rotation.
Last season, Ohka went 4-5 with a 4.82 ERA in 18 starts with Milwaukee. He was 2-1 with a 3.18 ERA in his first six starts before suffering a partial tear of his right rotator cuff in May. That cost Ohka more than a month on the disabled list, but the injury wasn't severe enough to require surgery.
Ohka, who signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 million with the Jays in January, said that his arm "feels good so far." He added that he hopes to make at least 30 starts for Toronto this season. First, Ohka will have to earn a spot in the rotation.
"He's a control pitcher. He throws all his pitches for strikes," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "He's one of those guys who can keep you off-balance. I heard you won't find a harder worker -- that nobody will outwork him."
Put him on ice: When Matt Stairs packed his bags for Spring Training, there was one thing he didn't forget to bring. Nevermind that he was heading to Florida.
"I brought my skates just in case I can find a hockey rink down here," said Stairs, a native from New Brunswick who now spends his offseasons in Bangor, Maine.
Stairs put those skates to work over the winter, playing in a recreational hockey league and coaching John Bapst Memorial High School's hockey team in Bangor. He joked that the extra ice time helped get his legs prepared for roaming the outfield on occasion this season with the Blue Jays.
"I think that's why I did a lot more extra skating in the offseason," Stairs said with a laugh. "For me, it was a way to give my mind a break from baseball, knowing you can go out and have some fun playing hockey. Right now, I can hit a ball really well down and in."
In December, Toronto signed Stairs to a Minor League contract that included an invitation to Spring Training. He appears to be a lock to make the Jays' Opening Day roster as the fourth outfielder, and as a backup at designated hitter and first base.
"I'll be happy to pinch-hit 162 games if they want me to," Stairs said. "Being 39 [years old], knowing that I probably can't go out and play every day, this is a situation where I'm going to get some at-bats and give some guys some days off.
"When I signed with Toronto when I did, I was kind of hoping that Spring Training started right away," he added. "It's nice to get here and get out of the cold weather and get out of the hockey rinks in Bangor."
Home-field advantage: Frank Thomas said that the Rogers Centre's growing reputation of being a hitter-friendly stadium played a role in his decision to sign with the Blue Jays.
"I've always hit well in the Rogers Centre," Thomas said. "[Toronto] always had such great pitching over the years, but I did find myself getting some hits sometimes that I wouldn't get at other ballparks."
In 67 career games in Toronto, Thomas has hit .288 with 12 homers and 67 RBIs. He hit two home runs in six games at the Rogers Centre last season.
Coming up: Toronto's first full-squad workout is scheduled for Thursday. Pitchers and catchers will run through drills in the morning, while position players will aim for an 11:30 a.m. ET start, following their physicals. The Blue Jays also have intrasquad games tentatively scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.
Quotable: "I talked to him today and he said he had his slap shot ready if we need one early in camp." -- Gibbons, on Stairs
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.