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The Globe and Mail

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons lifts the lid a little on starting rotation

Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons adjusts his cap before a spring training baseball game against the Houston Astros in Kissimmee, Fla., Sunday, March 9.

Carlos Osorio/AP

Manager John Gibbons offered a glimpse Sunday of the Blue Jays' much-debated pitching rotation.

He helped fill in some of the gaps when he said the pitching questions remaining are who will be the fifth starter and whether the team will carry seven or eight in the bullpen.

Previously GM Alex Anthopoulos had talked of two openings left to fill in a starting rotation that already features R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Brandon Morrow.

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A gaggle of pitchers has been competing for the fourth and fifth sports with J.A. Happ, Drew Hutchison and Ricky Romero the leading contenders although Happ's back issues had muddied the waters somewhat.

Asked Sunday if Happ was the fourth starter with one position still open, Gibbons replied: "Yeah, I'm a big Happ fan. I think he's going to have a heck of a year for us and all indications the other day are his back's fine. He threw very well (in a minor league game Friday). That was a big question.

"Now if his back flares up, that might be a different story."

Hutchison is widely believed to have already pitched his way into the rotation. In three outings this spring, the 23-year-old right-hander has given up three runs in 9 2-3 innings for an ERA of 2.79. He has struck out 16 and walked one.

"He's been pitching great," Gibbons acknowledged. "Arguably the best of anybody in camp."

Then he clammed up, returning to his stock response that the lineup will be announced at the end of the spring.

"So keep asking. You ain't getting nothing," he said devilishly.

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Gibbons confirmed Dickey will pitch first with left-hander Buehrle third in the rotation. Morrow reportedly will throw fifth, which would put him on the mound for the home opener April 4 against the Yankees.

The Jays open March 31 with a four-game series in Tampa.

The manager declined comment on Morrow pitching fifth. But he rejected the suggestion that a veteran was needed to handle the pressure of pitching the home opener.

"It's a big day but, you know what, if you don't think they can handle that day they probably shouldn't be there."

Gibbons also said he had no issue with southpaws Buehrle and Happ pitching back-to-back.

"They're both left-handers but they're different type of pitchers," he said.

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In case a second opinion on the starting rotation is needed, the Jays asked fans via Twitter on Sunday to offer their suggestions.

"Who do you think should be included in the @BlueJays Opening Day Pitching Rotation? Send us your 5 pitchers and rank them 1-5," the team tweeted Sunday on its official account.

Gibbons confirmed locks in the bullpen are Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos, Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup and Steve Delabar.

"They're not going anywhere," Gibbons said. "Your other guys will be your middle and long (relief) guys so we're covered with our late-inning go-to guys."

Pitchers Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, Jeremy Jeffress and Dustin McGowan are out of options, meaning the team could lose them if they are sent down.

McGowan is expected to be part of the opening bullpen, despite his desire to be a starter.

"There's some pretty good pitchers out there that are out of options and you can't keep them all," said Gibbons.

"We also think the guys we cut loose will probably get grabbed," he added.

A seven-man bullpen would give the Jays a four-man bench.

"That's the risk you take. If you take that extra bullpen guy, you're shorter on the bench." said Gibbons. "That's not ideal but it might cover our rotation a little bit, make the pitching staff that much stronger if we go with eight."

Despite the options complication, Gibbons insisted the team would take the best 25 players north.

Also Sunday, the Jays optioned pitchers Kyle Drabek, Chad Jenkins and Sean Nolin to triple-A Buffalo. Reliever Neil Wagner was sent down Friday.

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