CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Right-hander Neil Wagner was optioned to Minor League camp on Friday as the Blue Jays continue to narrow the focus of their spring competitions.
Wagner was one of the surprise contributors to Toronto's bullpen during the 2013 season. He posted a 3.79 ERA in 38 innings and became a favorite of manager John Gibbons.
The 30-year-old likely would have received more consideration this season, but he was a victim of his contractual status. Wagner has a Minor League option remaining on his contract while a lot of other pitchers in the mix for a job don't, and that became a factor.
Right-handers Jeremy Jeffress, Dustin McGowan, Esmil Rogers and Todd Redmond also are competing for jobs. They cannot be sent to the Minors without first clearing waivers and being made available to other teams.
Wagner will likely receive another opportunity at some point this season. He's expected the start the year with Triple-A Buffalo, where he posted 16 saves for the Bisons last season.
Dickey uses Minor League start to stretch out
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- R.A. Dickey has moved one step closer to being ready for his Opening Day start against the Rays on March 31.
Toronto's knuckleballer allowed two runs over 7 2/3 innings during a Minor League outing against the Phillies on Saturday afternoon. He allowed six hits and two walks while striking out two.
He threw exactly 100 pitches and will attempt to repeat that performance for one more outing before dialing things back in his final game of the spring.
"I feel like I'm on schedule, I feel good, and my knuckleball is moving quite well right now," Dickey said. "So we'll see -- it's always a work in progress, I'm always trying to learn about the knuckleball.
"How I can manipulate a little bit different, maybe I can add a different bullet, because I'm going through the AL East again this year. So even though they didn't see the real me, I feel like, especially early on, I'm still looking for other weapons."
Dickey's second Spring Training with the Blue Jays has been different than his first one. Last year, Dickey had to prepare quicker than normal in order to pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. This year, he has been able to go at his own pace.
The workload Dickey sets for himself is also a lot different than any other pitcher on the Blue Jays' staff. Toronto's other starters have been throwing approximately 75 pitches during their outings, while Dickey is 25 pitches -- and two innings -- beyond that.
One of the main reasons is because Dickey likes to build up his endurance and then use his final spring outing to experiment with a few things. That start vs. the Yankees on March 26 is when he'll work on one or two things that need to be refined before the regular season.
"I think by that time I'll know, I'll be comfortable enough with my game-ready stuff to know what I may need to work on," Dickey said. "If anything. Maybe it's just to be consistent and that's something to work on, too. Maybe it's a cutter.
"I can use that outing any way I want to. Maybe it's to work on sequences that I'm going to use against the Tampa Bay Rays. Maybe I'm not facing [Derek] Jeter and [Jacoby] Ellsbury and those guys against the Yankees, who I get to play my last outing. Maybe I'm facing [Desmond] Jennings, [Evan] Longoria and those guys. It's a great luxury."
Dickey's only trouble on Saturday afternoon against his Minor League opponents came in the fourth inning, when he had runners on second and third with two outs and then threw a poor pitch that was sent into the gap in right-center field for an RBI double.
Outside of that one inning, Dickey was almost flawless. There were a lot of weak ground balls and shallow fly balls, and most of the hits he allowed seemed to just barely find a hole. There also were a lot of quick swings, but that shouldn't come as a surprise, considering his level of competition.
Dickey used this Minor League outing to take a closer look at himself and the way his knuckleballs are moving as opposed to the final outcome.
"I think it's a great mental exercise. Obviously, when you're facing the Major League guys, there's probably an extra gear in there, especially if it's in front of a crowd," said Dickey, who had a 3.57 ERA after the All-Star break in 2013.
"It's natural that adrenaline is going to be a factor, but it's a great mental exercise to come out here and execute your pitches regardless of the situation, surroundings, competition. I'm competing against myself more than I am those guys anyways, so it's a great exercise for me."
Dickey is scheduled for another Minor League game on March 21.
Kratz OK after getting struck on hand by pitch
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Blue Jays catcher Erik Kratz survived a little bit of a scare on Saturday afternoon, when he was struck on the right hand during a Minor League game against the Phillies.
Kratz was at the plate when he was hit on the backside of his hand by a fastball. The game was momentarily delayed as Blue Jays trainer George Poulis ran onto the field to get a closer look.
The 33-year-old was given the option of coming out of the game, but he decided to continue the at-bat and hit an RBI single.
"I'm good, I'm good," Kratz said before hurrying off to make sure he didn't miss the team shuttle to Dunedin, Fla. "It just hit me in the back of the hand."
The lack of an apparent injury can only be considered good news for the catcher, who is competing for the backup job in Toronto.
Veteran Dioner Navarro is scheduled to receive most of the playing time behind the plate, and either Kratz or Josh Thole will become the personal catcher for knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
In a rather telling sign of the Blue Jays' plans, Kratz has been behind the plate for all of Dickey's starts this spring. It's worth noting, though, that Thole has caught the former National League Cy Young Award winner in the past and it wouldn't take him very long to get up to speed.
Kratz only had limited experience with a knuckleball before this spring, but he entered camp as the early favorite for the back-up job because of his upside at the plate. The native of Pennsylvania hit nine home runs in each of the past two years with the Phillies despite receiving less than 200 at-bats in both seasons.
"It's coming," Dickey said of Kratz's ability to catch the knuckleball. "We only have a couple of more outings. Whoever is evaluating it, is evaluating it but I feel like he has improved and we'll see how that goes."