Dickey encouraged ahead of opening day start

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.