MLB

Dickey encouraged ahead of opening day start

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TORONTO (AP)

R.A. Dickey couldn't wait till opening day to make his first pitches at Toronto's Rogers Centre. So the Cy Young knuckleballer spent part of Easter Sunday getting acclimated to his new home mound.

''It was almost like an out-of-body experience,'' said Dickey, who threw to backup catcher Henry Blanco in preparation for Tuesday's start against the Cleveland Indians. ''To get to stand on the mound and kind of get comfortable with my surroundings was a real treat.''

Dickey, who won 20 games and struck out a career high 230 batters with the Mets last season, hinted that his knuckleball was already in midseason form.

''I was very encouraged, that's all I'll say,'' Dickey said before the Blue Jays held a workout Monday afternoon. ''I'm not going to make any predictions, but it felt good coming out of my hand and that's a good sign.

''It left me anticipating a very fun night.''

Toronto fans are anticipating a fun season, as the retooled Blue Jays seek to return to the playoffs for the first time since winning back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993.

''We're excited, we're ready,'' manager John Gibbons said. ''We've got a good team. We'll see what happens.''

Gibbons, who chose Dickey as his opening day starter back in February, called the 38-year-old veteran ''the perfect guy'' for the high-profile assignment.

''He'll be very focused,'' Gibbons said. ''I don't think you can distract him. I look forward to him having a big year for us.''

Dickey said last month's World Baseball Classic helped him prepare for opening day. He pitched for the United States against Mexico in front of a hostile crowd at Arizona's Chase Field, then faced the Dominican Republic at Miami's Marlins Park. Both games were held inside domed stadiums.

''It gave me two real tangible experiences to be able to lean on when I go out there,'' Dickey said. ''It was a nice prelude, if you will.''

The WBC also gave Dickey the opportunity to form a game-tested bond with catcher J.P. Arencibia, who'll be behind the plate against the Indians. Arencibia had never caught a knuckleball pitcher before Dickey joined the Jays.

''If the WBC had not happened, J.P. would not be catching me,'' Dickey said. ''He did very well and I'm very confident in his ability to receive it now.''

Besides Dickey, acquired from New York in December, Toronto added shortstop Jose Reyes, right-hander Josh Johnson and left-hander Mark Buehrle in a November deal with the Marlins, and signed outfielder Melky Cabrera and infielder Maicer Izturis as free agents.

Gibbons, who managed the Blue Jays from 2004 to 2008, said it's hard not to notice the increased buzz around baseball in Toronto.

''I don't want to say it's out of control but everywhere you go it's pretty amazing,'' Gibbons said. ''You can't go anywhere without hearing something about the Blue Jays.''

Toronto may be the talk of the AL East, but the Indians also had an active offseason. Cleveland spent $117 on free agents, a big-ticket spending spree that brought in All-Star outfielder Michael Bourn, first baseman Nick Swisher, right-hander Brett Myers and slugger Mark Reynolds.

The Indians also traded for outfielder Drew Stubbs and infielder Mike Aviles and signed slugger Jason Giambi, infielder Ryan Raburn and left-hander Scott Kazmir.

''I like what they've done,'' Gibbons said.

So does Swisher, who signed a four-year, $56 million contract - the largest for a free agent in Indians history.

''We've done a good job,'' Swisher said. ''You've got to tip your hat to the front office for the team they've put together. They've put together an exciting team, a team with a lot of speed.''

There's also a new manager in Terry Francona. The former Red Sox skipper is back on the bench after a working as a TV broadcaster last season.

''I like this group a lot,'' Francona said. ''It's going to be fun. I'm looking forward to this group to see just how good we can get.''

NOTES: Gibbons said 3B Brett Lawrie, who'll start the season on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his left side, was set to resume throwing today in Florida and could return to game action this weekend. Lawrie is eligible to come off the DL on April 6, but Gibbons said he'll likely be out for ''a couple of weeks.'' ... Gibbons said RHP Casey Janssen, who was slowed this spring while he recovered from shoulder surgery last November, is healthy enough to close if needed.

Tagged: Indians, Blue Jays, R.A. Dickey, Nick Swisher, J.P. Arencibia

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