Bi­agini pre­par­ing for pos­si­ble new role in sec­ond spring train­ing with Blue Jays

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY MELISSA COUTO

Six months af­ter crack­ing the Blue Jays’ ma­jor-league ros­ter, Joe Bi­agini had a dream he was back in spring train­ing as an un­known pitcher try­ing to prove him­self.

He still has trou­ble be­liev­ing his 2016 suc­cess even now.

“You spend 15, al­most 20 years dream­ing about this and you get in a habit of think­ing about mak­ing it (to the ma­jors),” Bi­agini said Tues­day at the team’s spring train­ing club­house. “I kept think­ing through­out the year, ‘Oh it’ll sink in, it’ll sink in’ and it wasn’t re­ally sink­ing in.

“In Au­gust I had a dream that I was try­ing to make the team. I woke up and I saw the in­te­rior of my apart­ment in Toronto and I had to take a sec­ond and re­al­ize, ‘OK I did make the team.”’

The 26-year-old right-han­der, picked up by the Blue Jays in the Rule 5 draft be­fore last sea­son, be­came one of man­ager John Gib­bons’s most steady op­tions out of the bullpen.

He threw 67 2/3 in­nings, strik­ing out 62 bat­ters and al­low­ing just three home runs all year, then fol­lowed that up with 7 1/3 score­less post-sea­son in­nings.

It’s be­cause of that suc­cess, how­ever, that Bi­agini’s role with the team has be­come un­cer­tain.

With Toronto in need of start­ing ro­ta­tion depth, the or­ga­ni­za­tion has plans to stretch Bi­agini out over the course of the spring.

As Bi­agini de­scribed it, he’s in­sur­ance “in case some­thing crazy hap­pens or doesn’t go right or if there’s some sort of spot that opens up.”

“I’m go­ing to be pre­pared as a pos­si­ble op­tion but there’s no guar­an­tee on that,” he said. “Ob­vi­ously they’re go­ing to use spring train­ing to fig­ure that out. I just talked to (gen­eral man­ager) Ross (Atkins) about that and he was re­ally en­cour­ag­ing.

“I think they’re stretch­ing me out early in camp, kind of just main­tain­ing that and then pre­par­ing me to ex­pect to go into the bullpen or also start if some­thing hap­pens where I need to do that.”

Bi­agini worked pri­mar­ily as a starter through­out his mi­nor­league ca­reer with the San Fran­cisco Gi­ants be­fore join­ing Toronto.

He was 29-30 with a 4.06 earned-run av­er­age through 89 games — all but three of them starts — over four sea­sons.

Stretch­ing Bi­agini out could mean send­ing him to triple-A Buf­falo to get reps in a ro­ta­tion once the sea­son be­gins. Bi­agini said he and Atkins had dis­cussed that pos­si­bil­ity.

“I’m OK with do­ing what­ever they want me to do,” Bi­agini said. “I don’t know if (go­ing to triple-A) is go­ing to be an ex­tremely likely op­tion but it can be, there’s just no way of know­ing. They said there were some unique sce­nar­ios where that could pos­si­bly hap­pen for a pe­riod.

“In do­ing that, if it could help the team win I’m not go­ing to make a big is­sue about it.”

Marco Estrada, who missed a hand­ful of starts with a back in­jury last year, be­lieves Bi­agini has what it takes to be an ef­fec­tive starter.

“Oh God yeah, he can def­i­nitely start,” Estrada said. “He’s a huge as­set to this team. What he did for us last year was in­cred­i­ble. To be a Rule 5 guy, no­body knew who he was, next thing you know he’s one of our best re­liev­ers.

“He’s def­i­nitely got the stuff to start. He can prob­a­bly be a re­ally good starter and the only way of know­ing is to throw him out there and let­ting him do it.”

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Toronto Blue Jays Joe Bi­agini looks out the club­house door af­ter do­ing some med­i­cal tests as pitch­ers and catch­ers re­ported dur­ing base­ball spring train­ing in Dunedin, Fla., on Tues­day.

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