Notes: Ohka starts slowly
Settles down after giving up four runs in first inning of work
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The competition will last until the end of Spring Training, but Tomo Ohka didn't make a great first impression in his bid for a spot at the back end of the Blue Jays' rotation. Fortunately for the right-hander, there's four more weeks to correct what went wrong in his outing on Saturday.
In his first appearance of the spring, Ohka yielded four runs on five hits in two innings against the Rays. Given Ohka's style, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons was mostly unconcerned by the initial results.
"We're not going to judge a guy too much until we get to the middle of the spring," Gibbons said. "That way, he can get a couple games under his belt. He lives and dies with location -- that's the name of his game. He changes speeds, and when he makes a mistake, well, he got hurt today."
Ohka entered Saturday's game in the third inning and struggled at the start. He threw only nine pitches -- seven for strikes -- to the first four hitters he faced, but he left a few balls up in the strike zone. All four batters recorded hits, including a two-run home run by Rays outfielder Jonny Gomes, who sent one of Ohka's offerings high over the right-field wall.
Ohka allowed one more hit and issued a walk before ending the inning with a ground out off the bat of catcher Josh Paul. Ohka threw 26 pitches -- 16 for strikes -- in the third inning and then settled down in time to work a scoreless fourth frame.
"He was probably a little nervous to get out there the first time," Toronto catcher Gregg Zaun said. "He's a finesse guy. It's going to take him a little time to fine tune it. I was just happy that he was able to get some balls down in the zone in the latter part of the first inning, and then he was really good in the second."
The Jays signed Ohka to a one-year, $1.5 million deal in the offseason. He went 4-5 with a 4.82 ERA in 2006, but he was limited to 18 starts due to a shoulder injury. So far, the ailment hasn't presented a problem this spring.
Good start: Like Ohka, Toronto starter A.J. Burnett watched Gomes send one of his pitches deep to right field for a homer. Other than that moon shot in the first inning, though, Burnett looked sharp in his first trip to the mound this spring.
Burnett stuck to fastballs and changeups, throwing a total of 25 pitches -- 16 for strikes. The right-hander gave up a run and struck out two over two innings.
Burnett is working more extensively with his changeup this spring than he has in the past. He threw five on Saturday and joked that he didn't think he threw that many changeups all last season. It's a pitch that Zaun feels could help Burnett avoid situations in which he's forced to rely heavily on his fastball.
"[His] curveball is breaking top-to-bottom, and it tends to finish out of the zone," Zaun explained. "So, if he gets a good feel for that changeup, that'd be a nice pitch for him to get going to get back into counts where he doesn't have to throw his fastball all the time."
Burnett said he will probably begin working his curve into the mix soon, but he admitted that he was tempted to throw one or two against Tampa Bay.
"A couple times I was like, 'Come on, put a two down Zaunie,'" Burnett said with a laugh.
"Well, he told me no curveballs today," Zaun said. "I can't say I'd argue with that at this point in Spring Training. There's no reason to bring out the whole arsenal when fastball command is the bread and butter."
Just a coincidence? Phillies general manager Pat Gillick was in the pressbox at Knology Park on Saturday afternoon, taking in the early portion of Toronto's game against Tampa Bay.
Only three days earlier, Gillick made his way over to the Bobby Mattick Training Center, where he spent time chatting with Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi during Toronto's final workout before games began.
Gillick, who was Toronto's GM from 1978-94, still has friends within the Blue Jays organization, but there could be an ulterior motive behind his visits. Published reports have indicated that Philadelphia covets Jays right fielder Alex Rios, and the club is also searching for bullpen help.
While it seems unlikely that the Jays would part with Rios, Toronto might make a few of their young arms available. The Jays have two 'B' games scheduled against the Phillies (on Monday in Clearwater and on Thursday in Dunedin, both with 10 a.m. ET start times), and Toronto will send some of its younger pitchers to the mound in those contests.
Injury updates: Gibbons said that left fielder Reed Johnson will be held out of the lineup "a little longer" due to stiffness in his lower back. ... Rios (sore right shoulder) has been playing catch and could be back in right field by the beginning of next week. Until then, he'll continue to receive at-bats as the designated hitter. ... Reliever Brandon League (strained lat muscle) continues to throw on flat ground, but Gibbons isn't sure when he'll begin pitching off a mound again.
Time change: The Blue Jays have pushed the start time of their March 29 Grapefruit League game against the Yankees to 7:05 p.m. The contest, which was originally scheduled for 1:05 p.m., has been changed in order for TSN to televise the game across Canada.
Quotable: "He won't be making any. The seats are too small [on the bus]." -- Gibbons, joking about Frank Thomas making road trips this spring
Coming up: Toronto right-hander John Thomson is scheduled to take on Tampa Bay righty Jae Kuk Ryu when the Blue Jays face the Devil Rays at 1:05 p.m. on Sunday at Progress Energy Park in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.