DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays have decided to go with Josh Thole as their backup catcher at the start of the season instead of Erik Kratz.
The choice is somewhat of a surprise, because Kratz spent almost the entire spring working with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey on a regular basis. Kratz also hit .400 (10-for-25) with a pair of home runs and five RBIs in 11 games.
Instead, the catcher who has caught Dickey for the past four seasons got the job.
"It was a tough call, because I thought they both did a nice job this spring," Gibbons said of the two catchers. "[Thole] has something with Dickey, though. He has caught him the last few years; there's a little something they have working. So we're going to run with it."
Thole will be Dickey's personal catcher while veteran Dioner Navarro is expected to start most of the other games. Thole spent two years as the starting catcher with the New York Mets before transitioning to a part-time role in Toronto last season.
Kratz appears to have the higher offensive upside. The 33-year-old hit nine home runs in each of the past two seasons with the Phillies despite receiving less than 200 at-bats. He's a career .220 hitter with a .281 on-base percentage over parts of four years in the big leagues.
Thole struggled in 2013 as he managed to hit just .175 with a .256 on-base percentage in 45 games. There's a chance he could receive more playing time this year, considering Navarro hasn't played more than 89 games since 2009 and might need some additional rest over the 162-game schedule.
In order to justify the club's decision, Thole will need an uptick in his production at the plate. He's been spending a lot of time with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer this spring and feels as though he has made some progress in his approach.
"There's a couple of timing drills that we do in the cage," Thole said. "Close up with some firmness to the throw instead of just the traditional flips or hitting dead-arm batting practice -- I think doing those kind of things will be beneficial for me.
"I feel like this spring I've been able to get back to myself, who I was as a hitter, what got me here."
Eight-man bullpen suits Blue Jays' needs
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays have decided to start the year with an eight-man bullpen.
Toronto will forego an extra man off the bench in favor of carrying an additional reliever. The Blue Jays had several pitchers who were out of options competing for jobs, and the organization was looking for a way to keep them in the fold.
Jeremy Jeffress, Esmil Rogers and Todd Redmond will all start the year on the 25-man roster. That should go a long way in helping to protect the pitching staff -- in particular Dustin McGowan, who is starting the season on a strict pitch count.
"We've been talking about it for quite awhile," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "We were hoping to go the other way, but we just feel like at this point in time, that's the way we need to go. There's some guys we don't want to lose. Plus, we're talking about the rotation, we have some guys that we have to keep an eye on, too, so we need a little depth on the Major League roster."
Rogers and Redmond will both pitch in long relief, while Jeffress gives the Blue Jays another power arm to use during the middle innings. They fill out a group which includes closer Casey Janssen, setup man Sergio Santos, Brett Cecil, Steve Delabar and Aaron Loup.
Catcher Josh Thole, infielder Maicer Izturis and outfielder Moises Sierra will be available off the bench. Recently acquired Matt Tuiasosopo has not made the team and likely will be placed on waivers in the near future, because he is out of Minor League options on his contract.
The Blue Jays can only hope for a repeat performance from the bullpen in 2014. Toronto's relievers were among the best in baseball last season after posting a 3.37 ERA in 552 2/3 innings.
• Edwin Encarnacion left Wednesday's 10-6 win over the Yankees in the fifth inning after he was hit by a pitch by Preston Claiborne. The ball hit Encarnacion on the lower part of his right forearm. Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said after the game that Encarnacion was "fine." Encarnacion underwent offseason wrist surgery, but it was on his left hand.
• Jose Reyes remains day to day with a mild strain in his left hamstring. Reyes isn't expected to play on Thursday afternoon, but he remains optimistic he'll be able to start at designated hitter on Friday night in Montreal.