Joey Votto, Yariel Rodriguez could make Blue Jays spring debuts Sunday

Photo credit:Blue Jays PR
Thomas Hall
1 month ago
The Toronto Blue Jays will likely have a pair of new faces taking the field during split-squad action on Sunday, with one-half of the roster travelling to Clearwater, Fla., to face the Philadelphia Phillies and the remaining half staying back in Dunedin to host the Minnesota Twins.
One of those games may feature Canadian Joey Votto, who’s scheduled to suit up in a minor-league contest on Wednesday and could play another the following day. If everything checks out, the Etobicoke, Ont., native should be cleared to make his Grapefruit League debut this weekend.
Votto, in camp on a non-roster deal with an invite to spring training, has spent the last few days ramping up and getting himself into game shape after spending the first half of spring training unsigned.
Following 17 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, the organization declined the left-hander’s $20-million option for 2024, opting for a $7-million buyout that made him a free agent. He appeared in 65 games last season after returning from shoulder surgery, hitting 14 home runs with 38 RBIs while slashing .202/.314/.433.
The 40-year-old first baseman participated in batting practice Tuesday morning, during which he faced Cuban right-hander Yariel Rodriguez, who’s also nearing his Blue Jays spring debut.
Votto is competing with fellow non-roster invitee Daniel Vogelbach for a spot on the Blue Jays’ bench. But with just over two weeks until Opening Day, the former Red acknowledges he’s likely to start this season at Triple-A Buffalo, where he’ll attempt to work his way back to the major leagues.
Rodriguez, delayed by visa issues and back spasms, is slated to make his long-awaited Grapefruit League debut in one of Toronto’s two games this Sunday. The goal is to have him work two innings in his first live-game reps since last year’s World Baseball Classic.
The 27-year-old righty was scheduled to throw two innings of live batting practice on Tuesday, hoping to toss roughly 40 pitches. Toronto intends to continue stretching him out as a starter this spring, aiming to build him up to five innings by the end of spring.
The Blue Jays signed Rodriguez to a five-year, $32-million contract over the off-season – a deal that can earn up to $47.5 million as a starter and $37.5 million as a reliever. He can only be optioned to the minors without his consent this season, adding to the importance of determining his viability as a starting pitcher in 2024.
Rodriguez, who opted not to return to Japan’s NPB following the WBC, worked exclusively as a reliever with the Chunichi Dragons in 2022, fanning 60 hitters across 54.2 innings while posting a 1.15 ERA.

Toronto also revealed Kevin Gausman, hampered by shoulder fatigue following a bullpen session he threw earlier this month, is headed in the right direction after Tuesday’s side session.
The Blue Jays are expected to update the right-hander’s recovery plan on Thursday, with the club deciding between a live BP session or an exhibition game for his next appearance.
It remains unclear if Gausman will have enough time for a proper build-up prior to Toronto’s season-opener at Tropicana Field versus the Tampa Bay Rays on Mar. 28. But even if he avoids the IL, chances are the franchise’s 2023 Opening Day starter won’t take the nod for Game 1 of 162 in consecutive seasons.
That honour will likely be awarded to José Berríos, who’s currently lined up to start on Opening Day for the second time in his Blue Jays tenure. If that comes to fruition, he’ll be hoping for a redo of his 2022 appearance, which tied the shortest Opening Day start in franchise history, lasting just one-third of an inning after allowing four earned runs on three hits and two walks against the Texas Rangers.
Based on Toronto’s current alignment, Chris Bassitt will likely follow Berríos in the starting rotation, with Yusei Kikuchi and Bowden Francis slated to occupy the other two spots.


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