TORONTO -- Blue Jays right-hander Brandon Morrow appears well on his way to a full recovery from a right forearm injury, and he should be ready to go by the start of Spring Training.
Morrow was limited to just 10 starts last season because of an entrapped radial nerve in his right forearm. He avoided surgery but was officially shut down in August after Dr. James Andrews prescribed prolonged rest.
The 29-year-old has since resumed throwing without restrictions and should enter camp at 100 percent with an eye on reclaiming his spot as a crucial member in the Blue Jays' starting rotation.
"It looks like he is completely healthy," Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "He has thrown a simulated game. He has thrown two bullpen [sessions]. He has thrown every pitch -- fastball, curveball, slider -- at 100 percent. He feels great and he's going to be a big boost to our rotation."
Toronto entered the offseason with a goal of improving its starting rotation with at least one major addition. That remains a goal, but it's possible the most significant upgrade for next year's staff could come from within.
Morrow was well on his way to becoming an elite starter in the American League when he posted an impressive 2.96 ERA in 2012. His workload was limited to just 21 starts because of a fluke oblique injury, but the possibilities seemed endless and there was a belief he would eventually become the club's ace despite the additions of R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle.
Unfortunately for Morrow and the Blue Jays, the progress came to an abrupt end with the forearm issue. Morrow now finds himself facing plenty of skeptics, but the club believes he can still live up to the lofty expectations.
"There's definitely strong confidence that Brandon is totally over his issues," Anthopoulos said. "The fact that he has thrown multiple bullpen [sessions], thrown a sim game, got up and down. When you do a sim game, you're throwing three or four innings. He's completely healthy and completely healed.
"I wish Brandon was coming off a year where he had a 2.96 [ERA], 120 innings and he ended the season really well, but I don't think it's a stretch to say he's in the same place going into Spring Training that he was last year."
Toronto will need a return to form from Morrow if the club wants to regain its footing in the always competitive American League East. But Morrow needs a strong showing just as badly considering his guaranteed contract comes to an end after 2014, with the club holding a $10 million option for '15.
Catching Dickey is key to Kratz's shot at backup role
TORONTO -- Veteran catcher Erik Kratz appears destined for Triple-A Buffalo, but the Blue Jays have every intention of giving him an opportunity to compete with Josh Thole for the backup role in Toronto.
The only way Kratz would have a realistic shot at a spot on the big league roster is if he can prove capable of handling the knuckleball. The Blue Jays plan to have Kratz work at least on a part-time basis with R.A. Dickey during the spring to see how their partnership works out.
Thole spent most of the 2013 season as Dickey's personal catcher, and while it's expected that will continue again next year, general manager Alex Anthopoulos didn't want to completely close the door on Kratz.
"From a defensive standpoint, we always viewed him as above average," Anthopoulos said. "He can frame well, good defender, can throw well. He has options left as well, so that certainly helps from a depth standpoint. Him and Josh Thole can compete for that spot, one of the challenges is going to be can be catch R.A., but we'll take a look at that in Spring Training."
Kratz does have some experience with the knuckleball after previously catching journeyman Charlie Zink. Dickey's knuckler is far superior and will provide a much bigger challenge, but it at least means Kratz won't be working from square one in his introduction to the pitch that is notoriously hard to catch.
The 33-year-old Kratz was acquired from the Phillies alongside left-handed pitching prospect Rob Rasmussen on Tuesday night in exchange for right-hander Brad Lincoln. The veteran Lincoln became expendable because he was out of options on his contract and was a long shot to crack next year's bullpen.
Rasmussen made 14 starts in the Pacific Coast League this past season but now could find himself making a transition to the bullpen. Anthopoulos said a final decision on his future has yet to be made, but it appears as though the 24-year-old will be somewhat of a long shot to crack the rotation in Triple-A Buffalo and instead will be pitching out of the 'pen.
"He has all three options left," Anthopoulos said of Rasmussen. "We're not sure ultimately if he'll be a starter or a reliever, I think for right now, we would project him to go the bullpen and provide depth for us.
"He has a very good arm, very good athlete, very good stuff. You get to turn back the clock a little bit, because Brad is out of options and was going to have to make our team."