Saturday, December 16, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Blue Jays face lower expectations

DUNEDIN — When the Blue Jays opened camp last spring, there was a sizable buzz.

After a flurry of offseason moves, they were popular picks to reach the World Series.

"You mean, the kiss of death?" manager John Gibbons said, joking.

Toronto lost 21 of its first 31 and finished 74-88 and in last place in the American League East. As the Jays held their first pitchers and catchers workout Monday, they said they're planning to bounce back, not minding that they'll fly more under the radar this time.

"The high praise from everyone was really media-driven," closer Casey Janssen said. "We as the players knew that we haven't won anything, guys who have been around a long time haven't won anything for a lot of years. Just because we 'won the offseason' doesn't necessarily mean that every team is going to let us beat them every night. The kind of opposite happened.

"It's nice to not have the crazy buzz around us and we can kind of be the hunter instead of the hunted. But nobody feels sorry for us, and everyone here understands that. It's going to be a challenge, we need to play better."

Gibbons said the Jays still like their team, which is why there weren't a lot of changes in the roster from last season, other than signing ex-Ray Dioner Navarro to be their primary catcher.

"The only way we're going to change minds is to go play better baseball and prove what we thought going into last year was true," Gibbons said. "And if we don't play well, then maybe we're not that good. We think we are."

O's finally make move

SARASOTA — The Orioles, who have been mostly inactive this offseason, agreed to a contract with free-agent right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez for four years and about $50 million, several media outlets reported.

The contract is pending a physical. This winter, a deal with reliever Grant Balfour fell through when the right-hander failed a physical. Balfour later signed with the Rays.

Jimenez, 30, had struggled for nearly 21/2 seasons before a strong stretch run with the Indians, going 6-4 with a 1.72 ERA in his final 12 starts. He was 13-9, 3.30 for the season.

SHOT AT CANO: Robinson Cano's occasional failure to run hard out of the batter's box didn't sit well with Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long. "If somebody told me I was a dog, I'd have to fix that," Long said of the All-Star second baseman, who signed with the Mariners this winter. "When you choose not to, you leave yourself open to taking heat, and that's your fault. For whatever reason, Robbie chose not to."

KOUFAX ON PUIG: Sandy Koufax liked what he saw out of rookie Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig. He'd like him even more if Puig would curb his aggressiveness, which sometimes led to mistakes in the field and on the basepaths. "If the showmanship doesn't involve a bad decision, it's fine. People love it," said Koufax, the Hall of Famer in his second year as special adviser to team chairman Mark Walter. "You have a great arm, you want to show it off. But I'd like to see him throw it to the right place all the time."

REDS, PITCHER NEAR DEAL: Reds right-hander Homer Bailey said he was "really close" to getting a multiyear deal completed before a scheduled arbitration hearing. Bailey, 27, wouldn't confirm reports that the sides are negotiating on a six-year deal.

MARINERS: Right-hander Taijuan Walker, one of the team's top prospects, threw a bullpen session and said he "felt great" days after complaining of right shoulder soreness.

TWINS: Shortstop Pedro Florimon is expected to miss two weeks after having his appendix removed.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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