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Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Frank Francisco keeps a close eye on the ball during baseball spring training in Dunedin, FL, on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette (Nathan Denette)
Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Frank Francisco keeps a close eye on the ball during baseball spring training in Dunedin, FL, on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette (Nathan Denette)

JEFF BLAIR

Jays' Francisco in doubt for opening day Add to ...

Frank Francisco's availability for Opening Day is in question more than ever after the Toronto Blue Jays closer experienced discomfort in the right pectoral area Saturday during a bullpen session.

He will not make a scheduled minor league appearance Sunday. Francisco had an MRI on Friday that according to manager John Farrell was "completely sound, completely clean … no structural issues," but he will be re-evaluated Sunday.

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Jon Rauch would be the Blue Jays closer if the team broke camp this morning.

"He (Francisco) felt relieved by the MRI, but when he gets on the angle of the mound and throws, that's where he feels it in the pec area," Farrell said before a 5-5, 10-inning tie with the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. "I know Opening Day is approaching, but you have to to look at a full season. We have to continue to evaluate it day to day hopeful opening day is still a possibility but without anything definitive today, it's still in doubt."

Francisco, who came into camp as the favorite for the closer's job, has just two appearances this spring and has been hampered by shoulder soreness that has moved into the pectoral area, and while he has been telling the Blue Jays he doesn't need much time to get ready for the season, both Farrell and general manager Alex Anthopoulos noted that between rest days and side sessions and back to back outings - all the things a closer needs to do to get ready - the clock is not in Francisco's favor.

Octavio Dotel, meanwhile, is close to getting ready to return after nursing a ham-string issue. Farrell said Dotel had decreased symptoms during a Saturday throwing session - "he shows good arm strenghth, there's no restriction as to letting the ball go," - but the team will evaluate Dotel Sunday before deciding the next course of action. Anthopoulos said he wanted Dotel to wait until the hamstring is fully healed.

Rauch has 47 career saves, including 21 last season with the Minnesota Twins.

AARON HILL BACK ON TRACK

Aaron Hill played four innings in the field in a minor league game Saturday for the first time since he played a couple of innings in a 'B' game in February, going 1-for-4 with a double. He DHd in a minor league game on Friday, and is scheduled to play Tuesday against the Philadelphia Phillies.

""He's still going about it - I don't want to say completely guarded - but I think there's an approach in his mind not to go without abandon," Farrell said of Hill, who has a quadriceps injury.

"We want to build him back," said Farrell, referring to Hill's workload. "More importantly, he came out of (Friday) with more aggressiveness out of the box and felt fine."

WAITING IN THE WINGS

The Blue Jays did not bring in many position players on minor league contracts, and that coupled with injuries to Hill and Scott Podsednik has meant that for the final three or four innings of Grapefruit League games, the Blue Jays positions have been filled by young minor leaguers with a future within the organization.

It's been a boon for players such as Anthony Gose, the five-tool centre-fielder that the Blue Jays acquired from the Houston Astros for Brett Wallace. Gose was with the Philadelphia Phillies before joining the Astros in the Roy Oswalt deal, and the Blue Jays have always had eyes for him.

At first glance, Gose favors Kenny Lofton: he wears his hat the same way, and is a left-handed thrower like Lofton who drags his glove hand in the same manner as Lofton. Luckily for the Blue Jays, the throwing arm doesn't resemble Lofton. Gose was 1-for-4 Saturday and is hitting .269 this spring. He faced Mariano Rivera and struck out on three cutters - fouling off the second one and looking at a back-door cutter for strike three. "Never seen anything like that," he told the dugout.

Anthopoulos had a funny story about Gose, coming out of his meeting with the player and manager John Farrell.

"We always encourage players to be honest, but there he is sitting there with the manager and G.M. - I'd never met him before spring training - and I told him this is chance for us to get to know you a little bit, instead of just around the cage for two minutes," said Anthopoulos. "A lot of the guys just sit there and look at the floor.

"So we were talking about what we'd heard and things we observed. We told him he wasn't going to make the team; you could be out on the first wave of cuts or the second wave - don't read anything into it - it's all about your development and at bats." He said: "Can I put in a request? If I'm going to go down (to the minors) can we wait until the (minor league) games have started?' It was kind of funny. We laughed and we said we'll see what we can do."

A CLOSING TIP

Cool spring training moment: Casey Janssen tipping the clubhouse kids in the visitors clubhouse extra to cover the clubhouse fees of minor leaguers brought over to round out the roster for a road game. "Pick two guys out of the bullpen," Janssen said to Blue Jays vice-president of communications. It's normal for players on the Major League to cover the clubhouse fees, but still nice to see in action.

 

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