Notes: Ryan will be ready to go
Gibbons confirms that closer will be available Opening Day
TAMPA, Fla. -- It's been nearly two weeks since B.J. Ryan appeared in a Spring Training game, but the Blue Jays aren't searching for the panic button. On Saturday, Toronto manager John Gibbons said that his $47 million closer will be ready by Opening Day.
"He's a big, strong guy and he's in shape," said Gibbons, sitting on the bench inside the visitors' dugout at Legends Field. "He's thrown enough. We'll get him a couple times in the bullpen and in a couple games -- that's all he's going to need."
Ryan, who has been battling a sore lower back, has a 9.00 ERA in three outings this spring, and hasn't pitched in a Grapefruit League contest since March 11. Gibbons said that the 6-foot-5 closer could get back on the mound in the bullpen on Sunday, and in a game by the middle of next week.
On Wednesday, Ryan began throwing on flat ground and he's played catch at increasing intervals over the past few days. Earlier this week, Toronto pitching coach Brad Arnsberg said that Ryan would pitch at about 60 percent strength when he first gets back on the hill.
"We'll get him in at least a couple games before we break camp," Gibbons said. "He'll be fine. I'll trust what he tells me."
Last season, Ryan had 38 saves and a 1.37 ERA and was named to the American League All-Star team in his first campaign as Toronto's closer. The Jays inked the 31-year-old left-hander to a five-year deal in November 2005.
Welcome aboard: Infielder Jason Smith probably had a hunch that he was going to make Toronto's roster. Even so, Gibbons decided it was only right to officially inform the 29-year-old utility player that he'd be with the Jays on Opening Day.
"I talked to him the other day and I told him he's on the team," Gibbons said. "He deserved it. I'm sure he had a feeling, but I'm sure he was also waiting to find out."
The Blue Jays selected Smith in December's Rule 5 Draft, stealing him away from the Cubs, who signed him to a Minor League deal this past offseason. Toronto had its sights on Smith even before the draft, though.
"He orginally signed with the Cubs as a Minor League free agent, because he thought he'd have a better chance there," Gibbons said. "I know we were trying to sign him. Then we said, 'Hey, if we can't sign him, we'll just Rule 5 him.'"
Entering Saturday, Smith had hit .378 with two home runs, eight RBIs and a .419 on-base percentage in 18 games this spring. The left-handed hitter will garner most of his playing time as a backup at second base, shortstop, third and the outfield with Toronto this season.
Right-hander Jason Frasor appears to be the top candidate for the eighth-inning job, but the Jays haven't ruled out using more than one pitcher in that role. Pitchers Victor Zambrano and Casey Janssen are in the mix for bullpen jobs, too.
"I dont know yet. That's the thing," said Gibbons, when asked how he might handle the eighth inning. "We've got some options, but it's tough to say at this point, to be honest with you."
Another pitcher who has Gibbons' vote of confidence for a relief role is Shaun Marcum. The right-hander entered the spring as a candidate for a rotation job, but now the Jays seem set on putting him in the 'pen.
"I can see [Marcum] in the middle innings, and it could even get better than that," Gibbons said. "He's going to be valuable, as opposed to just being that long guy who eats up innings. I think he's too valuable to us for that."
Back home: Toronto right fielder Alex Rios was given permission by the club to miss a few days after the passing of his grandfather. Rios headed to his home in Puerto Rico to be with his family, and he is expected to be back with the Jays in a few days. Matt Stairs started in right field against the Yankees on Saturday.
Roster moves: Prior to Saturday's game, the Blue Jays reassigned right-handers Blaine Neal and Brian Wolfe to Minor League camp. Toronto now has 33 players, including six non-roster invitees, at Spring Training with the big-league club.
Leftovers: Right-hander Roy Halladay's next turn in the rotation comes on Tuesday, when the Blue Jays host the Devil Rays. Since Halladay is scheduled to take on Tampa Bay during the first week of the regular season, Gibbons said the pitcher will make his next outing in a Minor League game. ... Righty A.J. Burnett might also pitch in a Minor League contest on Wednesday. ... Gibbons said that John Thomson, who has been bothered by a tight right shoulder, will pitch off a mound in a bullpen session on Sunday.
Quotable: "Predictions in this business are the kiss of death." -- Gibbons, when asked where he felt the Jays would rank in the AL East this season
Coming up: Toronto right-hander Tomo Ohka (1-1, 3.21 ERA) is scheduled to start when the Blue Jays host the Reds at 1:05 p.m. ET on Sunday at Knology Park in Dunedin, Fla.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.