Montoyo a big draw in his first game as a big league manager

              Toronto Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo sits in the dugout following a baseball workout in Toronto, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. The Blue Jays host the Detroit Tigers on opening day Thursday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

TORONTO (AP) — Charlie Montoyo is doing his part to make sure the Toronto Blue Jays play before a full house in his first game as a major league manager.

Montoyo and the Blue Jays begin the 2019 season at home Thursday against the Detroit Tigers. It’s a big moment for Montoyo, who spent 18 seasons as a minor league manager in the Tampa Bay system and another four as a big league coach for the Rays before getting the Blue Jays job last winter.

Besides family from his home in Puerto Rico, Montoyo has friends coming from some of his minor league managerial stops around the United States.

“They’re flying in tonight,” a smiling Montoyo said Wednesday. “My mom, sister, sister-in-law, people from Durham (North Carolina), from Tucson (Arizona), from Montgomery (Alabama). It’s going to be special.”

While Montoyo is proving a draw, several thousand tickets remained unsold less than 24 hours before the opener, a reflection of Toronto’s outlook at the beginning of a rebuild. Top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr., arguably the club’s most dynamic player, will miss the start of the season as he recovers from a strained left oblique. The team said Tuesday that Guerrero, who started hitting in the cage this week, is ahead of schedule in his recovery. However, there is still no timetable for his return.

The Blue Jays still have some roster decisions to make before the first game, with at least one of the final spots expected to go to a relief pitcher. Right-hander Bud Norris, who signed a minor league deal during spring training, has been slowed by a sore arm and might not be ready. Norris threw a bullpen at Toronto’s spring training facility in Florida on Tuesday.

The team unexpectedly opened another spot Wednesday night by trading designated hitter Kendrys Morales and cash to Oakland for minor league infielder Jesus Lopez. Toronto also received international slot money from the Athletics. The deal will allow Toronto to use the DH spot to give regular players a break, and makes room on the 40-man roster for Norris or another pitcher. Outfielder Anthony Alford is expected to take Morales’ spot on the opening day roster.

Detroit finalized its roster Wednesday. Outfielder JaCoby Jones (left shoulder) will start the season on the injured list.

The Tigers, coming off consecutive 98-loss seasons, will send Jordan Zimmermann to the mound Thursday against right-hander Marcus Stroman. Zimmermann has two years and $50 million left on the contract that brought him to Detroit before the 2016 season. He’s been injured or ineffective for much of his tenure with the Tigers, but he’ll get the start for a rebuilding team that already lost right-hander Michael Fulmer for the season because of an elbow injury.

Detroit welcomes back slugger Miguel Cabrera, who played only 38 games last year before a biceps injury ended his season. The Tigers have a couple of new faces in their infield after signing free agents Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison, but it figures to be another long season in Detroit.

For now, though, the Tigers are 0-0 and manager Ron Gardenhire remains upbeat.

“You’ve heard the word rebuild — but the rebuild is from the front office. Inside a clubhouse and the coaching staff, we believe we’re going to win,” Gardenhire said. “We’re putting together a baseball team that’s going to win baseball games.”