Notes: Zambrano still in 'pen for now
Righty still available for relief as Wednesday start nears
TORONTO -- Talk about poor timing. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons called Victor Zambrano into his office on Saturday to inform the pitcher that he was moving from the bullpen to Toronto's rotation. One day later, Zambrano was still in the 'pen out of necessity.
The plan was to start preparing Zambrano's arm for Wednesday's start in Cleveland, in which Josh Towers was originally slated to take the mound for the Blue Jays. After a 10-inning loss to Texas wore down the relief corps on Saturday, though, Toronto had to hold off on the scheduled bullpen session with Zambrano.
"We're a little beat up down in that 'pen," said Gibbons, who noted that Zambrano and Towers were both available in relief on Sunday.
Gibbons added that the club may have to make an adjustment for Wednesday if Zambrano was required to pitch more than an inning against the Rangers on Sunday. Otherwise, the plan was still for Zambrano to replace Towers (1-3 with a 4.70 ERA in four outings this year) as Toronto's fifth starter.
"I was in the bullpen, and I was concentrating on every opportunity that I had in there," Zambrano said. "I was surprised to be taking the [fifth] spot right now. Towers has some experience and, as a starter, I know that some days you don't feel good and some days you do. He's a good pitcher."
The only uncertainty at this point is how long Zambrano will be able to last in his first start of the season. Toronto pitching coach Brad Arnsberg said that he'd begin working with the 31-year-old right-hander on stretching his arm out following Sunday's game.
Arnsberg said that he'd like to have Zambrano simulate throwing two or three innings, consisting of 12-15 pitches each with short breaks in between. By Wednesday, Arnsberg indicated that the hope would be that Zambrano might be able to throw at least 50 pitches against the Indians.
"He hasn't been out there a whole lot, so the ability to throw the ball over the plate as often as he'd like to might be a little bit tough for him," Arnsberg said. "I hate to put a number on it, but you're looking at probably betwen 50-65 pitches, I would think that he would be able to somwhat handle that."
Entering Sunday, Zambrano was 0-1 with a 5.06 ERA in 5 1/3 innings over six relief outings. In his final start of Spring Training on March 30, Zambrano, almost a year removed from reconstructive right elbow surgery, was able to turn in six innings against Cleveland. He posted a 2.29 ERA in six spring games for the Jays, and is 34-35 with a 4.38 ERA in his career as a starter.
"When I went through Spring Training, I stretched my arm pretty good," Zambrano said. "Right now, it's only one month [into the season]. So, hopefully, it doesn't take me too much time to get back to throwing five or six innings. I'm a hard worker. We'll see. Maybe two or three innings [on Wednesday], and we'll build from there."
Lining things up: Toronto's lineup had a much different look for Sunday's game against Texas. Gibbons opted to rest right fielder and leadoff man Alex Rios, and decided to simply move the heart of his lineup up one slot.
Left fielder Adam Lind led off, followed by center fielder Vernon Wells, designated hitter Frank Thomas, first baseman Lyle Overbay, third baseman Troy Glaus and right fielder Matt Stairs in the 2-6 spots.
"I'm just giving Alex a day off and getting Stairs in there," Gibbons said. "I just took him out and pushed everybody up a spot. Instead of adding somebody leading off, I just moved everyone up."
The countdown: Thomas is inching closer to joining the 500 home run club. On Saturday, the 6-foot-5 slugger belted a solo homer off Texas starter Kevin Millwood for his 491st career blast. Thomas entered Sunday's contest just two homers shy of tying Fred McGriff and Lou Gehrig for 21st on the all-time list, and four shots behind Edgar Martinez for the most by a DH.
Minor matters: On Saturday, right-hander Dustin McGowan gave up one earned run on three hits with five strikeouts over six innings of a no-decision for Triple-A Syracuse. McGowan is 0-2 with a 1.64 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 22 innings this season. ... Right-hander John Thomson, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a shoulder injury, made his second rehabilitation start with Class A Dunedin on Wednesday. Thomson earned the win after giving up one earned run on five hits over seven innings.
Fresh air: The Blue Jays opened the dome at Rogers Centre for the first time this season on Sunday afternoon. Last season, Toronto posted a 24-19 record in games during which the dome was open.
Did you know? The last time Wells hit second in the lineup was on June 14, 2002, on the road against Montreal. In that game, Toronto's center fielder homered off Expos pitcher Tomo Ohka, who started for the Blue Jays on Sunday.
Coming up: Toronto ace Roy Hallday (3-0, 2.58 ERA) is scheduled to take the mound when the Blue Jays host the Rangers in the finale of a four-game set at 7:07 p.m. ET on Monday at Rogers Centre. Texas will counter with righty Vicente Padilla (0-3, 5.79 ERA).
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.