No guess work for what Bi­agini needs to do

Ottawa Citizen - - SPORTS - STEVE BUFFERY SBuf­fery@post­media.com

Toronto Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins was on the fir­ing line on Wed­nes­day and man­aged to sur­vive an af­ter­noon with the Toronto base­ball me­dia.

One of the more in­ter­est­ing tid­bits of in­for­ma­tion of­fered up by Atkins at the an­nual event was that right-handed pitcher Joe Bi­agini was es­sen­tially told to work on some spe­cific ex­er­cises dur­ing the off-sea­son — and to get in shape — if he wanted to re­main in the Toronto start­ing ro­ta­tion. Bi­agini, who had great suc­cess as a re­liever dur­ing his first sea­son with the Jays, was thrown into the ro­ta­tion last year af­ter a num­ber of starters went down with in­jury and the re­sults were mixed. Bi­agini had 18 starts and went 3-13 with a 5.34 ERA.

“If he were to come in good shape (to spring train­ing) and look­ing like he spent the off-sea­son fo­cused on be­ing a start­ing pitcher, we could start the year with five solid Ma­jor League starters,” said Atkins, who was asked what Bi­agini was asked to do in the off sea­son. “It was more just about his ap­proach to start­ing pitch­ing and what that means phys­i­cally, fun­da­men­tally, men­tally. We have given him some clear goals for this off-sea­son and if he meets them, he’s go­ing to be in a great po­si­tion to earn that spot.”

Bi­agini would be added to a ro­ta­tion that in­cludes Mar­cus Stro­man, Aaron Sanchez (if his fin­ger prob­lems are re­solved), J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada, and pos­si­bly Brett An­der­son if the Jays bring the lefty back. Atkins added that there is a good chance the club will trade, or sign, an­other start­ing pitcher. As for next week’s win­ter meet­ings and the off-sea­son in general, Atkins said the pri­or­i­ties haven’t changed.

“We know we need to com­ple­ment our in­field fur­ther, our out­field fur­ther, our pitch­ing fur­ther, po­ten­tially even com­ple­ment our catching sit­u­a­tion,” he said. “How that comes to fruition from this point not only de­pends on pri­or­i­ties, but also what (that costs).”

Atkins said there’s a lit­tle more depth in the re­lief mar­ket now as op­posed to start­ing pitch­ing. Steve Pearce’s name was men­tioned in a ques­tion about a po­ten­tial trade piece.

“We have a lot of tal­ented players on our Ma­jor League team (and) in our mi­nor league sys­tem that could be in some way used in a po­ten­tial trade,” said Atkins. “But we love our team, I love Steve Pearce. I feel like he’s go­ing to have an even bet­ter year than he had. He had some re­ally big hits and some good streaks for us, so we’re glad he’s here.”

Pearce was slowed by in­juries dur­ing his first sea­son with the Jays but came on as the 2017 sea­son pro­gressed.

Atkins ex­pressed ex­cite­ment over the re­cent trade of out­field prospect J.B. Wood­man for short­stop Aled­mys Diaz from the St. Louis Car­di­nals. Diaz had a great rookie cam­paign in 2016, .300 AVG/.369 OBP/slug­ging .510 with 17 home runs, but strug­gled in his sopho­more sea­son last year, his num­bers drop­ping to .259/.290/.392 and he was even­tu­ally de­moted to Triple A.

But the Jays front of­fice firmly be­lieve Diaz has a lot of up- side and will be, at the very least, a strong in­sur­ance pol­icy for Troy Tu­low­itzki and Devon Travis in the mid­dle in­field, along with an­other re­cent ac­qui­si­tion, Gift Ngoepe, whom they ac­quired from the Pi­rates last month.

Atkins said the Jays have a strat­egy in line in the hopes of get­ting third base­man Josh Don­ald­son to sign a long-term con­tract ex­ten­sion, though he wouldn’t of­fer any specifics. As for Sanchez, the GM said the young fire­baller is “do­ing great, his fin­ger looks great, he’s strong and is in a great men­tal state” and will start­ing throw­ing soon.

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