Notes: Zaun eager to be starting again
Catcher excited to help pitchers during spring competition
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays may not be completely certain who will fill out the back end of their rotation, but the club knows who will be catching the candidates this spring.
Gregg Zaun will head to Spring Training in Florida as Toronto's starting catcher, and he is preparing for the workload that goes along with that title. Besides getting reacquainted with the pitchers Zaun already knows from his past three years with the Jays, he'll also have to learn about the new acquisitions.
"My No. 1 job is still working with the pitching staff, getting those guys ready and finding out what the guys I don't know can do," Zaun said last week. "And [I'll be] trying to push the guys I do know into places that are just going to make them better. I try to challenge them a little bit."
Part of Zaun's responsibilty this spring will be working with the group of pitchers who will be battling for the final two spots in the rotation. Toronto signed right-handers John Thomson and Tomo Ohka, who are the front-runners for the jobs, but holdovers Shaun Marcum, Josh Towers, Casey Janssen and Dustin McGowan could contend for starting roles, too.
"It's a nice problem to have -- a little healthy competition for the four and five spots in our rotation this year," Zaun said. "I think, ultimate-case scenario, [Toronto manager John Gibbons and general manager J.P. Ricciardi] have a real tough decision to make at the end of Spring Training."
Zaun knows Ohka from his brief stint with Montreal during Spring Training in 2004. The catcher said he was impressed with the 30-year-old Japanese starter's split-finger fastball and described Ohka as a control pitcher who "chews up innings."
Zaun also had nothing but praise for the signings of Ohka, Thomson and Victor Zambrano, even though each pitcher is coming off some sort of recent injury. Zambrano is still rehabbing from reconstructive elbow surgery, but Zaun said he was looking forward to how the starter could potentially help Toronto later this season.
"Zambrano can be absolutely downright nasty," Zaun said. "I don't see a downside to [the signings]. Most of these are incentive-laden contracts. If they pitch well and stay healthy, they're going to get what they deserve money-wise.
"They're taking a little bit of a chance by giving these guys an opportunity, but these are proven guys."
The hips don't lie: As Reed Johnson watched high-definition video footage of himself running in slow motion, Toronto's left fielder had one overwhelming thought.
"It was weird," Johnson said with a laugh earlier this offseason.
Johnson made a trip to Los Angeles, where he had his running stride analyzed by the same lower leg specialist who helped Frank Thomas rebound from a serious ankle injury. Johnson wanted to find out what caused the stress fracture in his right shin that ended his season prematurely in September.
What he learned was that the source of his pain began with his hips. Before Johnson could get back to doing sprints, he'd have to work with a number of recommended hip flexibility and strengthening exercises. The training program would, in turn, build up durability in his legs.
"They watched me run with a video camera and put it in super slow-mo and kind of watched how my feet were hitting," Johnson recalled. "It was good. They just said that I need to work on hip strength and stuff like that. So I've been doing a lot of balancing stuff and hip exercises.
"There's tons of exercises that they've got me doing. It's boring, but it's going to be worth it. I'm sure everything is going to be fine."
Scouting Matsuzaka: Toronto center fielder Vernon Wells has never faced Japanese right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka, who signed a six-year deal with Boston this offseason. Wells did get a close-up look at Matsuzaka in 2004, though, when the outfielder headed overseas for Major League Baseball's Japan All-Star Series.
"I didn't face him then, but I saw him pitch," Wells said at a recent charity event in Toronto. "There was one game I didn't play in and he two-hit our team in a heartbeat. It was interesting and fun to watch, and I'm glad I had that day off.
"He has command of everything, which normally you'll find with Japanese pitchers -- they have command of all their pitches. And he's not afraid of you -- no matter who you are."
Quotable: "I'll just watch it the first time he throws it to me. If I look stupid, you guys understand -- it's a gyroball. It's not supposed to do that. Sooner or later, I'll figure it out." --Wells, on Matsuzaka's mysterious breaking pitch
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.