Toronto Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo (25) comes to the mound to relieve Jacob Waguespack, center left, during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020, in Boston. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Michael Dwyer

Blue Jays skipper says team feels it can play with the ‘big dogs’ in the division

Expectations have changed significantly for the Toronto Blue Jays since Charlie Montoyo was named manager after the 2018 season.

He guided the club through a rebuilding effort in his first year as skipper and helped the team get back to the playoffs last season.

Bigger things are expected in 2021 and Montoyo said his players are feeling ready and confident.

“That’s the vibe on this club right now: that we can play with the big dogs in this division,” he said Thursday on a video call with reporters. “We can compete and we have a good chance.”

Spring training is underway in Dunedin, Fla., as pitchers and catchers have arrived at camp. The team’s first full-squad workout is set for Monday.

The Blue Jays are coming off a 32-28 campaign in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Toronto earned the eighth and final spot in the expanded American League playoffs, but lost to Tampa Bay.

The two-game sweep made for an early exit but still provided an important building block for a young core that includes Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Cavan Biggio and others.

The Blue Jays were one of the more active teams on the free-agent front this past off-season.

Star outfielder George Springer signed a lucrative long-term deal and Marcus Semien was added at second base. Pitchers Kirby Yates, Tyler Chatwood, David Phelps and Robbie Ray also signed with the team.

Springer and Semien will help anchor an already solid batting order. Ace Hyun-Jin Ryu leads a rotation that could use another front-end starter, but should still be decent.

“Obviously we knocked on the door last year,” said catcher Danny Jansen. “Having the moves that happened for us, obviously the big one was Springer, a guy that has post-season experience, Semien as well.

“Yates, Chatwood, (trade pickup Steven) Matz, these guys, it’s an exciting thing for us. Adding these guys that have been around and have that experience, it’s going to be good.”

Montoyo touched on a variety of talking points over his 25-minute availability.

Of note, he said that Guerrero would get some reps at third base this spring. Montoyo added that Teoscar Hernandez would get some looks in left and right field, and outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr., would take some grounders at the infield corner positions.

The Blue Jays also confirmed that they will play their first two homestands at TD Ballpark in Dunedin. The team hopes to return to Rogers Centre later in the season but it will depend on how long border restrictions remain in place due to the pandemic.

Toronto played most of its home games in Buffalo, N.Y., last year. A return to Sahlen Field is possible later in the season but it’s too soon to determine a timeline on when the team will move north.

The Blue Jays will kick off their pre-season against the New York Yankees on Feb. 28.

The team’s regular-season opener is April 1 against the Yankees and the home opener is April 8 against the Los Angeles Angels.

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