Blue Jays 

White Sox-Blue Jays Preview

In order to become the first pitcher in the majors to win eight games, Freddy Garcia will have to overcome his past struggles at the Rogers Centre, where the Chicago White Sox open a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday.

Garcia (7-1, 3.92 ERA) is looking to win his eighth straight decision and improve to 8-1 for the first time since 2001, when he went 11-1 with the Seattle Mariners and was selected to the All-Star team. Arizona's Brandon Webb and Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir will also try for their eighth win on Friday.

The right-hander will be making his first start in Toronto as a member of the White Sox (31-15) after two poor outings with the Mariners in 2001 and 2002. Garcia was tagged for 10 runs and 11 hits over 10 2-3 innings of those two starts, going 0-1 with an 8.44 ERA.

Garcia, though, is coming off one of his best performances of the season, scattering eight hits in eight shutout innings of a 7-0 win Saturday over the Chicago Cubs.

''He's working ahead in the count, and when he's behind in the count, he's throwing the breaking ball for strikes,'' said White Sox catcher Chris Widger. ''He's moving his fastball in and out. When you can do that and have Freddy's stuff, you are going to be very successful.''

Garcia, who is 6-3 with a 5.27 ERA in 12 lifetime starts against the Blue Jays, has pitched well against Blue Jays power hitter Troy Glaus, who is 7-for-42 (.167) with 14 strikeouts against him.

The Blue Jays (25-21) will counter with Ted Lilly (4-4, 4.15), who looks to bounce back from his shortest outing of 2006. The left-hander lasted only 1 2-3 innings Sunday, giving up five runs in a 5-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies.

''This was a very poor performance,'' Lilly said. ''I looked up at the scoreboard after the second out of the inning and I had thrown 80 pitches and that's ridiculous.''

Lilly was hit hard for six runs and six hits, including three home runs over 1 2-3 innings of a 10-7 loss in his last outing against the White Sox at the Rogers Centre. The southpaw has given up eight homers in 33 innings lifetime against Chicago.

One of the homers was hit by Juan Uribe, who is 3-for-7 (.429) with two homers and four RBIs against Lilly.

Uribe is expected to play for the Sox after leaving their 3-2 win Wednesday over the Oakland Athletics after being hit with a pitch in the second inning thrown by Dan Haren that cracked his helmet.

''Hermie (White Sox athletic trainer Herm Schneider) said his eyes and nose are fine and there are no broken bones,'' said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who jokingly added, ''Hermie also told me his brain is fine. I told Hermie he's lying to me. I don't need him to lie.''

Chicago's Rob Mackowiak has gone 14-for-31 (.452) in the last 11 games, providing Guillen with surprising offense to go with the defensive versatility that led to the White Sox signing him in the offseason.

''Mack, the way he's swinging the bat now, he'll get more playing time. It might be center field, he might play right or left one day,'' Guillen said. ''Obviously he's going to be there.''

The Blue Jays enter the series taking two of three against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but failed to sweep the series with a 10-8 loss on Wednesday. Josh Towers gave up four runs and six hits and failed to get out of the second inning of the loss.

Toronto starters have a 6.59 ERA in their last six games, with opponents hitting .325 with six homers in a span that covers 28 2-3 innings.

The White Sox won two of three games from the Blue Jays in Chicago l

Blue Jays acquire Overbay from Brewers

The Toronto Blue Jays turned their attention to offence Thursday, acquiring first baseman Lyle Overbay and minor-league pitcher Ty Taubenheim from the Milwaukee Brewers for right-hander Dave Bush, outfield prospect Gabe Gross and minor-league hurler Zach Jackson.

The Blue Jays, expanding their payroll from $45 million to $75 million US next season, have been one of the most active teams in baseball this off-season. They already added starter A.J. Burnett and gave closer B.J. Ryan a five-year, $47 million contract that is the richest ever for a reliever.

''We added two good arms and a bat we really wanted,'' Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. ''We'd like to get one more bat.''

Overbay, a left-handed hitter who is eligible for arbitration, batted .276 with 19 homers and 72 RBIs this year. His departure clears the way for top prospect Prince Fielder to take over at first base in Milwaukee.

''He'd better be ready now,'' Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said with a smile. ''He (Overbay) knew it was going to happen. He's seen Prince play. He knows what kind of player he is. Now he's going to get a chance to have a good career.''

Taubenheim, 23, went 12-8 with a 3.28 ERA in 27 starts for Class A Brevard County and double-A Huntsville. The six-foot-seven, 240-pound right-hander was Milwaukee's 44th-round pick in the 2002 amateur draft.

Bush was 5-11 with a 4.49 ERA in 25 games (24 starts) for Toronto this year. Gross played 40 games in Toronto, with one homer and seven RBIs. He spent the rest of the season at triple-A Syracuse, where he hit .300 with six homers and 49 RBIs.

Jackson, the 32nd pick overall out of Texas A&M in the 2004 amateur draft, moved through three levels of the minors and had a combined 16-8 record with a 3.92 ERA.

''We've got some very good positional prospects,'' Melvin said. ''We're a little short on pitchers. So this deal allows us to get better.''

The Boston Red Sox had also pursued Overbay to replace the tandem of Kevin Millar, who was not offered arbitration, and John Olerud, who retired. Boston offered Matt Clement, who has $15 million left on his contract for 2006-07, but balked at eating salary in the exchange.

''We were looking at young pitchers who would have left us the flexibility to do other things,'' Melvin said. ''It wasn't something that could happen here, and I didn't want to walk away from the opportunity.''

Blue Jays now among AL contenders

The Toronto Blue Jays, buoyed by ownership's willingness to countenance a higher payroll, have been one of the most active teams in baseball this winter.

Thus far, they've made three notable additions: closer B.J. Ryan (five years, $47 million), SP A.J. Burnett (five years, $55 million) and 1B Lyle Overbay (acquired from the Brewers along with minor league hurler Ty Taubenheim). You can certainly quibble with the contracts doled out to Ryan and Burnett (although, to be fair, the Jays generally need to surpass market rates in order to attract players to Toronto), and a case can be made that the Brewers (narrowly) got the better end of the Overbay swap. Even so, this is a substantially improved team going into 2006. In Ryan, they have a top-shelf, shutdown closer whose excellent peripheral indicators augur continued success. In Burnett, they get a legit number-two starter whose groundball tendencies and high strikeout rates mean he's primed for a breakout season, and in Overbay they get a slick-fielding first baseman whose gap-power stroke should play nicely on the artificial turf of the Rogers Centre.

The Jays as presently constructed would probably win, say, the NL West by 10 games or so. However, in reality they have the misfortune of toiling in the AL East, where the Panzer divisions otherwise known as the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox roam the earth. But they've got a shot. They key to the Jays' success in 2006 may just be the well-planned intersection of a groundball-inducing staff with an accomplished infield defense. Consider ...

At third base they have Corey Koskie, a strong defender even in these, his decline-phase years (and backing him up they have the equally adept Aaron Hill). At second, they have Orlando Hudson, who's the best defensive keystoner in the game today. And now, they have Overbay at first, and he's on the short list of baseball's top-fielding first baseman. This infield arrangement is going to serve the Jays quite well.

Last season, the Toronto pitching staff ranked second in the AL in ground ball-fly ball ratio. Now consider that Burnett, who had the sixth-highest ground ball-fly ball rate in all of baseball last season, has been added to the fold. That's going to be an overwhelming number of "worm burners" induced by Toronto hurlers, and having gloves like Hudson, Koskie and Overbay manning the infield will mean groundouts by the truckload.

You may have noticed that no mention has been made of shortstop Russ Adams. Adams shows good range/lateral movement at the position, but his throwing arm is weak and often inaccurate by shortstop standards. As a result, he bounces many of his throws, and a great number of those bounced throws, in the absence of a good defensive first baseman, become errors.

Enter Overbay. Overbay has good footwork and range around the bag, and he's also especially skilled at scooping errant throws out of the dirt. That's going to help Adams tremendously. In 2005, Adams made 26 errors in 132 games at short. In 2006, watch as his error total magically declines, and Adams gains confidence at the position. That's probably what GM J.P.Ricciardi was thinking when he dealt for Overbay.

The upshot is that the Jays, who placed sixth in the AL in 2005 in fewest runs allowed, figure to be much better at keeping runs off the board. But will that be enough to overtake Boston or New York and claim the organization's first playoff berth since 1993? A few things need to happen ...

Ricciardi: Batista not unhappy with Jays

Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi says dethroned closer Miguel Batista isn't trying to pave his way out of town, despite published comments suggesting the right-hander is unhappy with the team.

"Nope, not at all," Ricciardi said Wednesday.

Batista was dumped from the stopper's role last month when Toronto signed free agent left-hander B.J. Ryan to a $47-million US, five-year contract and has since been the subject of countless trade rumours.

The unpredictable 34-year-old threw a changeup into the mix Wednesday when he told The Associated Press' Spanish-language service that New York Mets GM Omar Minaya had expressed an interest in him to his agent, a claim Minaya later denied to the AP.

The story also said Batista wasn't pleased with the situation in Toronto, which was news to Ricciardi, who said he hadn't heard one complaint from his hurler.

A message left with Batista's agent wasn't immediately returned.

"We have no proof of it and it really doesn't matter because he's our property," Ricciardi said. "I don't know if it's true, it could just be Miguel saying it.

"It don't matter, what's it going to add up to? He's our property, we'll do with him whatever we want."

That now seems to increasingly include the option of keeping Batista, either as a set-up man for Ryan or as a starter. Signed to a $13.1-million US, three-year deal in December 2003, Batista started in 2004 and closed last season, converting 31 of 39 save chances while going 5-8 with a 4.10 earned-run average.

Still, he remains one of Ricciardi's best bargaining chips in his quest to improve the team's offence, which is his top priority after signing Ryan, free agent right-hander A.J. Burnett and trading for first baseman Lyle Overbay.

"If we can get a bat or two I think we'll be in great shape," said Ricciardi. "A right-handed (hitter) would be perfect.

"That's what we're trying to do but that doesn't mean we're going to do it."

One place Ricciardi said he isn't looking to shore up is the backup catching spot.

Mike Piazza's agent called the Jays earlier in the off-season to gauge Toronto's interest but Ricciardi said he plans to have prospect Guillermo Quiroz, who is playing winter ball in Venezuela, back up Gregg Zaun.

"I think we're going to stay with what we got," said Ricciardi. "I don't think (Quiroz) is tearing the cover off the ball but he's played OK.

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