Notes: Towers battling to keep job
After rough '06, right-hander impressive in first spring start
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Blue Jays pitcher Josh Towers had a request when he arrived in Florida earlier this spring. He wanted his locker to be next to those for teammates Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett -- the leaders of Toronto's rotation.
"I wanted to be a little closer so, during some dead times, when we're sitting next to each other, maybe some conversations come out," Towers explained. "You can always learn something. And if you can't learn from guys like that, who can you learn from?"
It's just another step that Towers has taken in his quest to keep his job as a starter for the Jays. On Monday, the right-hander had his first opportunity to show Toronto that he's learned from his turbulent 2006 season.
Towers took the mound at Knology Park and turned in two solid innings against Pittsburgh. His only lapse came in the second, when Pirates first baseman Brad Eldred sent a 2-2 offering high over the left-field wall for a solo home run.
"It just went right down the middle," Towers said with a shrug. "Major League hitters don't miss those pitches."
Other than the one mistake, Towers looked drastically different than the starter who went 1-9 with a 9.11 ERA in Toronto's rotation last season. He threw 27 pitches, including 19 for strikes, struck out two and induced three groundouts.
"I was telling the other guys, 'This is probably the best I've felt in a long time,'" Towers said. "I felt like I had control of exactly what I wanted to do. The only thing I couldn't do was I didn't pitch inside to righties very well."
Towers has four more weeks of Spring Training to fine-tune those types of issues. During that period, he'll also be competing with a handful of pitchers for a spot at the back end of the Blue Jays' starting staff. As far as Towers is concerned, though, he's the only person who can derail his path back into the rotation.
"I know that I'm fighting for a spot, but those guys aren't going to be the reason I don't make the team," Towers said. "They're not what's in my way of making the team. I'm what's in my way."
"They all control they're own fate," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "We want everybody to make our decision tough. Josh can pitch. Last year's gone, and I expect a big year out of him."
On the mend: Brandon League has no doubt in his mind that he'll be ready for Opening Day. The young reliever has been dealing with a strained right lat muscle this spring, but he took another step back toward Toronto's bullpen on Monday.
League, who turns 24 on March 16, threw fastballs off a mound for about five minutes at Knology Park. It was the right-hander's first time on a mound in 10 days, and he said afterwards that the injury wasn't an issue.
League -- the leading candidate for Toronto's setup man role -- will play catch again on Tuesday and said he'd back on a mound in a couple days. League estimated that he'd throw two or three more bullpen sessions before throwing to hitters.
"B" squad: Right-handers Dustin McGowan, Casey Janssen and Ty Taubenheim each pitched two scoreless innings in a "B" game against the Phillies on Monday morning in Clearwater, Fla. The six-inning contest didn't count in the Grapefruit League standings.
McGowan threw 49 pitches -- 29 strikes -- and allowed two hits. He worked himself into a bases-loaded jam in the first inning, but escaped the frame unscathed. McGowan walked three, struck out two and hit one batter.
Janssen looked sharp, throwing 20 of his 26 pitches for strikes. The right-hander struck out four hitters, including Phillies starters Aaron Roward and Pat Burrell, and gave up two hits. Taubenheim also turned in a pair of scoreless frames.
DH decisions: The Blue Jays and Phillies have agreed to use a designated hitter during Wednesday's 1:05 p.m. ET game at Bright House Networks Field in Clearwater, Fla. Gibbons said using a DH in the spring stadiums of National League teams is decided on a game-to-game basis.
Blue Jays DH Frank Thomas won't be making any road trips during Spring Training. Gibbons said that the Big Hurt is set to make his first appearance of the spring in a home game against the Astros on March 9. While Toronto is on the road, Thomas will likely get at-bats in Minor League games in Dunedin, Fla.
Injury updates: Left fielder Reed Johnson (stiff lower back) said that he believed he'd make his first game appearance in "under a week." He's starting throwing and taking batting practice again. ... Alex Rios (sore right shoulder) served as a DH in Monday's "B" game against the Phillies and could be back in right field later this week.
Quotable: "You see something so pretty like that and you're like, 'Maybe I can do that.' Let A.J. do it." --Towers, on watching Burnett pitch
Coming up: Blue Jays right-hander Roy Halladay and Tigers left-hander Mike Maroth are scheduled to start when Toronto takes on Detroit at 1:05 p.m. on Tuesday at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.