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How a Bruce Lee workout crimped spring training for Jays’ Marco Estrada

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marco Estrada decided to try a new exercise and his back has not been the same since.

Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

Marco Estrada was doing just fine working out in his hometown of Peoria, Ariz., a couple of weeks back until he started to go all Bruce Lee.

Lee, the deceased iconic martial arts maestro and action film star, was known to hit the gym from time to time and is credited with inventing an abdominal exercise dubbed the dragon flag.

Estrada decided to give the move a whirl and now he's warning kids not to try it at home. The Toronto Blue Jays pitcher's back has not been the same since.

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"You look it up, you're going to see and you're going to go, 'Why was he doing that?'" Estrada said on Friday.

The exercise involves lying on your back on a decline or flat bench and raising both arms over your head to grasp the edge.

That alone would be beyond the capabilities of many of the media members covering the club here during spring training.

Then, while keeping the shoulder blades pressed flat against the bench, you would slowly raise your feet, making sure not to bend at the waist. Repeat several times. Avoid fainting.

"I tried that out, never did it in my entire life," Estrada said. "But my trainer suggested it and I tried it out and I probably should have listened to my body a little bit more instead of trying to knock out every rep and set."

That was three weeks ago.

Afterward, Estrada's back tightened up so much he could not rotate his torso.

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Did he fire that trainer?

"No, no," Estrada said. "I shouldn't have even said anything about it. It really wasn't his fault, it was my fault."

Fortunately for the Blue Jays, not to mention Estrada, his back is nearing 100 per cent, although he has yet to see any game action for the Blue Jays.

Estrada threw a bullpen session for the first time on Friday before Toronto's Grapefruit League game here against the Baltimore Orioles and proclaimed it a success.

"My back's feeling good, feeling strong," he said. "I've just got to build it up a little bit more and get the shoulder going. But overall it was a pretty good bullpen."

J.A. Happ, in his first start of the Grapefruit League circuit for the Blue Jays, breezed through two innings against the Orioles at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.

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Toronto won 4-3 and broke out the big bats with Russell Martin, Justin Smoak and Dalton Pompey each blasting solo home runs in the fourth inning.

It was Smoak's second home run of the spring as the Blue Jays remained unbeaten through four games.

Happ allowed two hits in his two frames and was happy to see second baseman Ryan Goins paired with shortstop Troy Tulowitzki for the first time this year. The duo turned a double play behind Happ in the second inning.

With Martin getting the start behind the plate and Kevin Pillar in centre field, Happ said the Blue Jays' defence up the middle will help the pitching staff sleep soundly.

"Really, everywhere, I think we're going to be really solid, really strong defensively," he said. "That's certainly a great feeling when you're on the mound, trying to execute a pitch, you just have that much more confidence where you try to do your thing and you trust that the defence is there.

"Knowing they're going to be well above average is nice."

Trying to keep everybody healthy is a top priority during the seven-week spring training and the Blue Jays were holding their breath a bit on Estrada.

He is being counted on to be a key cog in the five-man rotation this coming season as the Blue Jays look to defend their American League East crown.

Last season, his first in Toronto, was a revelation for Estrada, who enjoyed his best year since breaking into the major leagues in 2008.

The 32-year-old native of Mexico went 13-8, relying on a four-seam fastball as his primary pitch with a solid changeup that kept hitters off balance.

He pitched in 181 innings over the regular season and another 19 1/3 in three starts in the playoffs.

A free-agent heading into the off-season, Estrada's stellar campaign earned him a rich, two-year deal with the Blue Jays worth $26-million (U.S.).

"The comfort level is a little higher this year just because I know the guys now, whereas last year I didn't really know anybody," he said. "I came in, I was quiet. I just kind of did my own thing.

"But now that I know everybody I talk a little bit more. I'm not a very outspoken guy. I just like to come in, get my work done and just support the guys any way I can. You won't hear me screaming and yelling in there."

Estrada's workload in 2015 was the heaviest of any season in his career. And, for that reason, the Blue Jays were planning to bring him on slowly this spring. The sore back made that strategy a moot point.

In spring training last year, Estrada rolled an ankle and he started the season working out of the bullpen until May, when he replaced struggling rookie lefty Daniel Norris in the starting rotation.

And he went on to enjoy a career year.

Now it is his back that has given him issues in the spring.

"Maybe this is a blessing in disguise," Estrada said.

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