Towers has sights set on rotation spot
Right-hander hopes to rebound from a difficult 2006 season
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Lately, Josh Towers has felt like he's been sleeping in. By the time his alarm clock goes off each day, the pitcher is already awake, prepping for another day of Spring Training with the Blue Jays.
The "early" mornings he's had this spring have been a breeze. Over the winter, Towers teamed up with teammate Reed Johnson for daily workouts in Las Vegas, where both players live. When Towers agreed to join the outfielder's offseason program, though, the pitcher didn't know how hard it was going to be at first.
Towers quickly learned that Johnson woke up each day as early as 4:30 a.m. PT, and began his workout with a personal trainer at 6 a.m. The routine was unlike anything Towers had experienced, but he was willing to try anything to forget about last season and put himself back into the mix for a spot in Toronto's rotation.
"It was insane. I never get up that early ever. I never saw a point to it before," Towers said. "I've got to be honest with you, it was hard to get out of bed that early. It was really hard the first few weeks, having my body adjust to it. I mean, I was asleep driving in every morning."
For the first few weeks, Towers would finish working out with Johnson at around 9 a.m., and he'd be running on empty and ready for a long nap a few hours later. The pitcher admits being light-headed at the end of his first session with the left fielder. As the winter rolled on, though, Towers started going to bed by 8:30 p.m., and he began to adjust to the rigorous training regimen.
"There's always that extra motivation when you workout with somebody else," Towers said. "It is kind of nice to work out with somebody other than pitchers, because pitching programs kind of get a little repetitious and boring. I got to do other little things that Reed was doing."
Towers' goal was to build up the strength in his throwing shoulder and to increase his overall stamina. The right-hander began his throwing program in November, which was much earlier than he had in the past. Towers also added more bullpen sessions than in previous winters, because he wanted to arrive at Spring Training ahead of his typical schedule.
The workout routine was a way for Towers to keep his mind focussed on 2007, and not on the struggles he experienced last season. A year after leading Toronto with 13 wins, Towers went 2-10 with a 8.42 ERA for the Jays in 2006. He was demoted to Triple-A Syracuse twice, and could be headed back there for the beginning of this year, too.
Over the winter, the Blue Jays signed veteran starters John Thomson and Tomo Ohka, who are competing against Shaun Marcum and Towers for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. Toronto isn't ruling out Towers, who is under contract for $2.9 million this year, but he'll have to show drastic improvement this spring to win a job.
"I'm a big Josh fan -- always have been," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "He's done a good job for us here. I think last year was just an aberration. I expect him to bounce back. Josh is one of those guys you root for, because he's never had anything handed to him."
In fact, Towers has already gone through a similar situation once before. In 2002, he posted an 0-12 record between Baltimore and Triple-A Rochester. The Blue Jays signed him after that season and he became a reliable starter for Toronto in 2005, when he logged 208 2/3 innings over 33 starts.
"In Baltimore, he was kind of thrown on the scrap heap," Gibbons said. "But, you know what? He came up and he proved to everyone that he belonged here. He pitched great for us for three years and last year he fell on tough times."
"Towers has been written off a hundred times. He knows what it's like to come out of the abyss," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "What we're trying to do is create as much competition to go north with the best guys. In his case, he has a chance to get that job. He's just going to have to go out and pitch the way he has in the past."
Towers admits that he learned a lot during that last year with the Orioles, but he hoped that was the last time he ever went through that type of ordeal. After all, he finally found success and then earned a two-year, $5.2 million contract with the Jays as a result.
"Yeah, it's a familiar situation -- back against the wall," Towers said. "But I'm a little upset that last year happened the way it did after going through that a few years back with Baltimore. I figured like I should've been strong enough to overcome that. I'm upset with myself that I have to re-earn a spot on a team that I've already had a spot on for a few years."
That's one reason why Towers has the mentality that one of the rotation jobs is his to lose this spring. He knows Toronto isn't going to hand him a starting job after what happened last season, but Towers tells himself that the outcome is in his control.
"I know in my heart that I've got to go earn a spot on this team," Towers said. "There's no spot that's mine -- that's the actual situation. What I feel inside, though, is that if somebody gets my spot it's because I screwed up."
So far, Towers has forced himself to take some necessary steps toward impressing the Blue Jays. It began with the winter workouts with Johnson, and has carried over into Spring Training, where the pitcher has teamed up with staff ace Roy Halladay in the gym and on runs.
Johnson enjoyed training with Towers during the offseason, and the outfielder noticed something important. There was little discussion about the turbulent season that Towers had last year. Instead, Johnson saw Towers keeping his mind on his future with the Jays.
"It's awesome for him. I think he looks good and he's worked hard," Johnson said. "He has his goals set. If he didn't, he wouldn't have been showing up at five in the morning."
Towers' objective is to make Toronto's roster. Pitching at Triple-A might become a reality, but for now, that's the furthest thing from his mind.
"That's not an option," Towers said. "We'll have to talk about that later. Actually, we're not going to have that conversation."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.