Closer candidates Francisco, Dotel scratched
Unknown whether either veteran righty will be ready for opener
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The back end of the Blue Jays' bullpen took a hit on Tuesday when it was announced that Frank Francisco and Octavio Dotel had been scratched from their scheduled outings this week.
Francisco is out with what is being described as a right pectoral injury, while Dotel is suffering from a sore left hamstring.
The two veteran relievers both entered camp in competition for the closer role. Now that their availability for Opening Day is somewhat in doubt, so too is the situation facing Blue Jays manager John Farrell.
"It's premature to say who's in that slot," Farrell said of the closer role. "The main thing is guys that are taking the ball and getting on the mound are certainly putting themselves in a position to establish roles. So right now, we're not here to say who has that spot locked down."
Francisco was expected to pitch on Tuesday against the Phillies, but became an early-morning scratch. The move comes just two days after Francisco was held out against Tampa Bay for what was originally described as a knot in his throwing shoulder.
"While warming up in his last scheduled outing, he felt some tightness in his right pec," Farrell said of Francisco. "He came in [Monday], threw long toss and another 15 pitches off the mound. He improved as far as the feeling goes, but we're going to work him through some long toss and continue on the flat ground."
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Francisco then made his debut on March 6 and threw again on March 9 in a pair of one-inning shutout performances. Even though his latest set back has occurred with only two weeks remaining in the Grapefruit League season, Farrell said he isn't overly concerned that Francisco won't be ready for Opening Day.
"We feel like if we can get him three or four games [more] before we leave camp, he'll be fine," Farrell said. "He's not overly concerned or overly alarmed. He feels this is a Spring Training aches and pains type thing that he's going through. The red flag is not up per se with Frankie."
Dotel's status is unknown after the 37-year-old injured his left hamstring muscle on March 8 against Tampa Bay. He was scratched from this week's scheduled outings on Wednesday and Saturday and is limited to throwing off flat ground.
The injury causes Dotel problems when he turns his body during his windup and also when his leg lands on the elevated mound in his follow through.
"I really don't like that, to be honest with you," Dotel said of his leg needing extra rest. "I like to get my innings in Spring Training so I can be ready for the season. So at this point, we just have wait for my situation right now. I'm just going to give it time and see if I can get my hamstring the way it's supposed to and then we'll go from there."
Dotel has allowed five runs over three frames this spring. His normal routine is to pitch at least 10 innings during the Grapefruit League schedule and he conceded if that goal is not met, he might have to remain in Dunedin, Fla., to continue his rehab when camp breaks on March 30.
It's equally possible that Dotel's next outing will come in a Minor League game as he tries to work himself back into health.
"I wouldn't rule it out," Farrell said. "But until we get him back on the mound in a bullpen session -- before getting him in a game -- that's where we'll assess at that time and see how many opportunities are left to get back in a game before we break.
"Like Francisco, and with a number of one-inning relievers, if we can get four or five outings, we feel like that is sufficient. But before you know it, we can't have too many of those types where we have to be too protective, but as we go through the final two weeks here, we'll get a better read on that."
With Francisco and Dotel's statuses up in the air, the door appears to be opening for other members of Toronto's bullpen. Right-hander Jon Rauch would become the prime candidate to close if the other two are unavailable.
Rauch, who threw a scoreless inning against Philadelphia on Tuesday, gained experience in that role last season with Minnesota, going 3-1 with a 3.12 ERA and 21 saves. While Farrell won't speculate on his upcoming decisions, he did praise Rauch's performance.
"This is a guy that was a mid-90s pitcher until, like many pitchers, they go through some physical ailments and they learn to pitch," Farrell said of Rauch. "He creates such good downhill plane and he's got the feel for a changeup, which for a guy that big to have that touch and feel is very impressive."
The injuries also could create an opportunity for veterans Casey Janssen and Carlos Villanueva. Both right-handers entered camp without guaranteed jobs, but would likely get the call to Toronto if Francisco and Dotel are unable to go.