Spring Report: Halladay to Use Cutter Less

Right-hander Roy Halladay couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. Reports a few weeks back had him suffering some sort of injury to his right forearm, a problem that surfaced on two occasions in 2006.

"I don't know where that came from," Halladay said at the Jays' spring training complex in Dunedin, Fla. "It was somebody who obviously I didn't talk to. I didn't talk to anybody (about his arm) the entire winter. Wherever that came from, they were rather misinformed."

That's good news for the Blue Jays, who once again will be leaning on Halladay to lead the starting rotation.

The lone concession the Jays will be making with Halladay through spring training is limiting the number of cut fastballs he throws -- both on the side and in the exhibition games.

"With Doc (Halladay), it's that one pitch that sometimes irritates his forearm," manager John Gibbons said. "It makes sense (to limit him throwing it). Now he can just go out there and work on his changeup and work on other things."

Like Gibbons and general manager J.P. Ricciardi, Halladay is counting on newly acquired veterans John Thomson and Tomo Ohka to prove they are injury free and be major contributors in 2007.

"Hopefully they're healthy," Halladay said. "There were times last year when we had a lot of younger guys help us quite a bit. But it's harder for them to overcome tougher parts of the year and to understand what it might take to do that."

First, though, the Jays need Halladay to remain healthy.

TOP CANDIDATE TO SURPRISE: It's a coin flip between veteran starters John Thomson and Tomo Ohka. Both right-handers are coming to a new team after injury-plagued seasons, and both are being counted on to cement the rotation. An injury-free season by one or both would go a long way in determining the Jays' chances of success.

TOP CANDIDATE TO DISAPPOINT: RHP A.J. Burnett has all the potential in the world but has yet to avoid the injury bug that has plagued his career. Any setback by Burnett, who has the stuff to be a 20-game winner, will be a major disappointment.

AUTHORITY FIGURES: It's a pivotal year for manager John Gibbons (187-187), who took over for Carlos Tosca in August 2004. Gibbons is in the final year of his contract, but received a one-year extension on Monday. The extension, however, means nothing since he will be fired if the team does not perform to expectation or if another player issue arises this year. The 2006 season was a bumpy one for Gibbons as he had a celebrated clubhouse run-in with DH Shea Hillenbrand -- one that led to Hillenbrand's trade to the Giants -- and an on-field encounter with LHP Ted Lilly, one that turned into a physical encounter beneath the Jays dugout. Both incidents, though publicly backed by GM J.P. Ricciardi, blemished Gibbons reputation in the eyes of the fans and led to many calling for his dismissal. Gibbons, though, has a reputation of being a players' manager, and how the team responds, especially in the opening two months, will be critical. A poor start by the Jays could lead to his dismissal.

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