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Jays’ roster taking shape

Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Aaron Hill tested his strained right thigh in a series of drills before taking batting practice Tuesday and appears almost ready for game action.
Jimmy Rollins, Jose Bautista
Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Jose Bautista (19) loses the ball on a throwing error by Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia who tried to pick off Philadelphia Phillies Jimmy Rollins during the third inning of a spring training baseball game at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Aaron Hill tested his strained right thigh in a series of drills before taking batting practice Tuesday and appears almost ready for game action.

The news was not so encouraging about outfielder Scott Podsednik, whose left foot was in a cast due to plantar fasciitis. Podsednik, who is on a minor-league contract, made his only official spring training game appearance Friday.

Bit by bit, the Blue Jays’ 25-man opening-day roster is beginning to take shape with some injuries creating or removing some of the mystery depending.

There also are issues in the bullpen with right-handers Octavio Dotel (hamstring) and Frank Francisco (shoulder) dealing with injuries they insist are not serious.

And left-hander Ricky Romero, who has been named starter for opening day April 1, will skip Thursday’s scheduled start because of mild finger discomfort that bothered him in last Saturday’s start. The problem is considered minor.

Romero likely will be followed in the rotation by right-hander Brandon Morrow, left-hander Brett Cecil, and right-handers Jesse Litsch and Kyle Drabek. Left-handers Marc Rzepczynski and Jo-Joe Reyes have been used both as starters and relievers at spring training.

“I made some big strides today and just doing some build-up sprints,” Hill said after testing his troublesome leg. “They’re still going to take a guarded approach I guess. If it feels (Wednesday) the way it did today we plan on going out and getting some at-bats in the minor-leagues.

“They still don’t want me busting out of the box but I’ll be seeing live pitching. I’ll just take it slow I guess.”

Hill’s return would mean the Jays could open the season with what figures to be their regular infield of 2010 major-league home-run leader Jose Bautista at third base, Adam Lind in his new position at first and Yunel Escobar at shortstop.

Rookie Brett Lawrie of Langley, B.C., has played so well at third that he could be in the mix with Bautista moving to right field. But it appears Lawrie will open at triple-A Las Vegas.

Edwin Encarnacion appears set to be designated hitter, will also back up at first and make the occasional return to third in a pinch.

Podsednik is considered more of a backup in the outfield who can bring speed to the basepaths. The starting three in the outfield figure to be Travis Snider in left, Rajai Davis — who hit this third leadoff homer of spring training Tuesday — in centre, and Juan Rivera in right. With the uncertainty about Podsednik, Corey Patterson is a front-runner for the backup outfield spot.

Podsednik, whose injury is irritation and swelling in the tissue along the bottom of the foot, will continue to work out.

“Just work around (the foot), keep everything strong so that when I come out I’ll be able to pick up from there,” he said. “We haven’t really set an exact date for when we’re going to try to make it back. We don’t know exactly what the foot is going to feel like after the 10 days.

“We might have to go back in a cast for about another week. We’re just playing it by ear at this point.”

As for Dotel, who’s one of several experienced relievers acquired in the off-season, it’ll be a matter of getting him back throwing off the mound and then in games before an assessment can be made if he will be ready to start the season.

It’s a question of whether he can get enough outings in the spring training games before making the determination.

Francisco, who seemed likely to be the closer, is in the same situation. He was scratched from Saturday’s outing after warming up but later said it was nothing serious. Francisco suffered some soreness in the shoulder at the beginning of spring training, but said it was normal for him at this time of year.

Dotel also was signed with the idea of contending for the closer’s role.

Francisco has appeared in two Grapefruit League games and Dotel in three.

“Like Francisco, and with a number of one-inning pitchers, if we can get four or five outings we feel like that’s sufficient,” manager John Farrell said. “We can’t have too many of those types or we’re going to have to be too protective. As we go through the remaining two weeks here we’ll get a better read on that.”

Added Dotel: “I’m just going to give it time and see if I can get my hamstring the way it’s supposed to be. And then we go from there.”

He couldn’t say whether he will be ready for the season.

“I just have to be careful,” he said. “It’s better to lose one or two weeks than three months.”

Farrell said there hasn’t been a decision made on who will close. Jon Rauch and Jason Frasor, who have been pitching regularly in spring training, have held the role at times during their careers.

“It’s premature to say who’s in that slot,” Farrell said. “The main thing is guys who are taking the ball and getting on the mound, they’re certainly putting themselves in a position to establish roles.

Right now I’m not here to say who’s got that spot locked up.“

Rauch, Frasor, Shawn Camp, Casey Janssen, Carlos Villanueva and left-handers David Purcey and Reyes have been pitching and could make up the bullpen if Dotel and Francisco are both unable to pitch by opening day.

Reyes has made one start among his three outings but is out of options and the risk of losing him on waivers makes him a likely candidate to break with the team. Janssen still has options and can be sent down without waivers as can Rzepczynski.

The catching seems set with rookie J.P. Arencibia getting his first chance to be the starter. Jose Molina will back him up.

John McDonald and Mike McCoy are the likely backup infielders and each has played in the outfield. McDonald adds to his value by being the emergency catcher.