Chips in place, Jays set for opener

* The Blue Jays open the season at 4:10 in St. Pete's this afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays and will need big years from Jose Bautista, (left to right), R.A. Dickey and Edwin Encarnacion ... and maybe Aaron Sanchez. .... 2014 Canadians in College Letters of Intent 2014 Canadian draft list 2013 Canadians in the Minors 2015 Canadian draft list


By Bob Elliott

MONTREAL -- Forecasting is like beauty.

It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

Like one evaluator asked about the Blue Jays chances this season, which opens Monday night at Tropicana Field.

“I look around the division and I don’t see how Toronto is going to be any better than last year,” said a veteran scout. “They could be fourth or last.”

Another saw something completely different compared to watching the Jays this spring, something he didn’t see in 2013.

“These guys look like they have a bit of a chip on their collective shoulder, a big one,” said one evaluator. “They were embarrassed last year. All that pre-season hype, they were bad from Day One except for that stretch in June when they had the winning streak.

“I told my guys that all their hitters look ready leaving Florida save for Colby Rasmus. I’m not good enough to guess how many games they’ll win, but I’d say more than last year.”

One thing is for sure: the Blue Jays will not be booed in the second inning as they were last year on opening night as J.P. Arencibia was charged with two of his three passed balls on the night trying to catch R.A. Dickey’s knuckler.

No, on Monday night the Jays will be booed during pre-game introductions when they face lefty David Price of the Tampa Rays at Tropicana Field.

Last year the Jays boarded a Tampa-Toronto charter to open the season against the Cleveland Indians at the Rogers Centre.

The Jays took a Tampa-Montreal charter on Thursday, played two exhibition games at Olympic Stadium and flew back to Tampa Saturday night.

“I feel like the vibe was good this spring,” said Rasmus. “We won’t have as big a target on our back like last year.”

The good vibrations must result in something better than the 2-5 start the Jays had last year against the Indians and the Boston Red Sox. The Jays open with four against the Rays and return for the home opener Friday night against the New York Yankees. A bad month and pressure will mount on manager John Gibbons and eventually general manager Alex Anthopoulos.

“Playing in Montreal helped us to get ready, we have already have played two games in a stadium which had a big-league feel,” said Brandon Morrow, who pitched 5 2/3 scoreless on Saturday. The Mets and the Jays drew 96,450 to the old home of the Montreal Expos in the two games.

“I feel a lot better about this team than I did six weeks ago,” said Adam Lind.   

Jose Bautista has similar thought, but he felt good about the Jays chances last year no matter their record.

“I’m optimistic,” Bautista said, as said so many times in Dunedin. “I feel good about our team”

The most impressive thing about this 2014 Jays Bautista saw?

Aaron Sanchez,” answered Bautista quickly as if trying to get his answer in before an opponent hit a buzzer on a game show. In short, he didn’t have to think about it long.

Oh yeah, Sanchez.

The former No. 1 pick, who appeared ready according to some, not ready by those making the decisions, pitched on Saturday. It went like this:

Working the eighth of a scoreless game: Ike Davis grounded to second baseman Ryan Goins, Taylor Teagarden popped weakly to first baseman Moises Sierra and Ruben Tejada flew out to Rasmus.

Pitching the ninth after Melky Cabera hit a two-run homer: Eric Campbell was called out on strikes, Anthony Seratelli struck out swinging and Josh Satin was called out on strikes by plate ump Stu Scheurwater of Regina. A triple-A ump Scheurwater was added to the umps call-up list in case of injury or vacation last month.

“A lot of young guys they get nervous pitching in front of 50,000 fans in a close game, especially for the first time,” said Edwin Encarnacion. “He threw nothing but strikes.”

Bautista is also a Sanchez backer.

“I like his velocity, his whole arsenal,” said Bautista. “I know people say the only knock against him is his experience. The only way he can get experience is pitching in the majors.

“You don’t see guys like him come along very often. I’m not into comparing him to anyone, like I’m not into predicting how many wins. All I know is that he’s good. He’s really good.

“And he’s going to make this team that much better when he gets here.”

Sanchez was at his locker packing his bag when travelling secretary Mike Shaw stopped by. Sanchez would take the Jays to Dorval but while the Jays boarded their charter to Tampa, he would fly to Manchester, N.H. to get ready to start the season in double-A New Hampshire where he will pitch for Bobby Meachum.

Someone from Toronto wished him good luck on his season.

“Thanks,” Sanchez said. “See you soon.”

He didn’t sound at all cocky.

He sounded major-league ready.