DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Three-fifths of the Blue Jays’ rotation just pulled into beautiful downtown Dunedin. But their catcher, J.P. Arencibia, is getting ready to exit -- to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
So how big an issue is that separation, for up to two and a half weeks, for a catcher trying to learn a new staff?
“It’s not hard,” Arencibia said. “I feel like if you put in the work you need to put in, and watch them, [it won’t be an issue]. The fortunate part is that these guys are so established. These are starters who have been around and been successful, with Buehrle and Josh Johnson and Dickey. So you know they’re going to stick to their strengths. They’re not going to reinvent the wheel just because it’s a new team.
“So you watch film. And you study how they like to approach guys. And I think it’s easier to catch those guys and know what the baseball is going to do than to catch a knuckleball and have no idea what it’s going to do.”
The Blue Jays also don’t appear particularly concerned, because they’re convinced Arencibia has put in the time over the winter to prepare himself to catch his new starters.
“He has two weeks with these guys early, and J.P. prepares quite a bit,” said GM Alex Anthopoulos. “John Buck was a really good influence on him last year. ... So one thing J.P. did as soon as we got these guys was, our video coordinator sent him all their starts. That’s something John Buck taught him. And he prepares and emails all these guys.
“Also, he’ll be with R.A. [at the WBC], so he’ll just have [to learn] Josh and Buehrle. And these guys are vets. They know what they’re doing. So with him studying video and being here with them for two weeks, and getting another week or two after the WBC, I think we’ll be fine.”
• So which catcher on this team wins the knuckleball lottery -- and gets to spend the next six or seven months catching Dickey’s flutterballs? Uh, stay tuned.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said Wednesday the team will be watching as Arencibia catches Dickey in the WBC, “and we’ll see how that goes.”
Arencibia hasn’t been officially ruled out as an option. But it appears the Blue Jays are leaning toward either Josh Thole or Henry Blanco, who both caught Dickey with the Mets. Whichever of those two emerges is likely to become Dickey’s personal catcher.
Gibbons isn’t a big fan of having personal catchers, normally. But this, he said, is “different,” because there’s a knuckleball involved. It’s also different because Dickey is lined up to start on Opening Day, and if the Jays decide someone other than Arencibia should be his personal catcher, then that guy, not Arencibia, would start the opener.
“I know Opening Day is a big day and an exciting day,” Gibbons said. “But if we decide we’re better off with one of the other guys catching, then he’ll catch.”
• Anthopoulos was trying to resist the urge to watch Johnson throw before the exhibition games start. But on Wednesday, he couldn’t help himself anymore. So he stationed himself behind the batting cage to watch the former Marlins ace throw live batting practice. Also in attendance, not coincidentally, was new pitching coach Pete Walker.
“He looks really good,” Walker said. “And he’s feeling really good.”
Johnson has been working this spring to re-establish his curve ball -- which he’d de-emphasized with the Marlins -- to complement his fastball, which lost its hop last year following 2011 shoulder issues. But Walker says he’s excited about both of those pitches so far.
“His location and his fastball command are impeccable right now,” Walker said. “And it’s fun to watch. If he keeps throwing like this and his velocity jumps a click, great. But even if it doesn’t, we’ve still got a great pitcher.”
• When the Blue Jays brought veteran utility man (and esteemed clubhouse presence) Mark DeRosa in this spring, it was no accident that they planted his locker right next to the locker of their brightest young talent, Brett Lawrie. DeRosa’s assignment: Mentor Lawrie on just about everything.
“He’s got all the talent in the world, and he’s an aggressive kid. But now he’s got to learn to be smart about it,” DeRosa said. “I’ve been lucky enough to be around some great players over the years, and I’ve seen the way they go about it. Chipper [Jones] is one of the smartest hitters I’ve ever been around. Michael Young was so cerebral at the plate. Athletic ability is great, but it only takes you so far. At some point, you’ve got to learn the finer points of how to play the game.”
DeRosa and Lawrie seem to have hit it off just fine so far. But one area DeRosa plans to leave alone is this:
“The guy sings all day long,” he said. “He’ll get a song that sticks in his head, and he sings it for all 20 minutes of taking ground balls. Nickelback. Dance jams. He’s got it all going on.”