According to a report from the National Post's John Lott, the Blue Jays' incumbent closer Casey Janssen is on the road to recovery after having a clavicle shave surgery this past November. Things are progressing and he is continuing to move forward, at least according to media reports; however, the length of that road is yet unknown.
Last season, he felt discomfort in the joint where his right shoulder joined his collarbone, so he got the end of his collarbone shaved down. He rested for a couple of months after the surgery until he was cleared to throw about a month before he was due to report to spring training.
When he reported to camp this season a month ago, the plan was to prepare him to face live batters by the week of March 4. Those plans were delayed a week into camp not because of direct pain, but because he became "preoccupied with every twinge and pang" in his shoulder, resulting in poor pitching mechanics during bullpen sessions. The Blue Jays decided to move him off the mound for long-tossing on flat ground in order to keep building arm strength without having to actually focus on the pitching motion. By March 3, after a little more than a week of flat-ground tossing, Janssen returned to the bullpen mound and threw 20 pitches. He continued to throw bullpen sessions approximately every three days. He was only working on fastballs up until March 9, but mixed in sliders and changeups for his first batting-practice session on March 14, throwing another 20 pitches from both the stretch and the wind-up positions. Janssen had still yet to attempt cut fastballs or curveballs, saying that working on his fastball was the most important thing to focus on. After that session, he told BlueJays.com's Gregor Chisholm:
"I felt all right. It was good to get out there, good to compete. Still by no means a finished product, but it's another step in the right direction and it was nice to face some hitters and pick up the intensity again."
On Sunday, with the Blue Jays playing two hours away in Kissimmee, so the National Post's John Lott (in addition to many other reporters) decided to stay back in Dunedin. Lott filled his time by going to watch Janssen pitch to live batters for the first time in minor league camp. The Buffalo Bisons were playing the Philadelphia Phillies' AAA-affiliate Lehigh Valley IronPigs, and Janssen in a rehab-like appearance.
The 31-year-old was sent out to start the game and retired the first three batters he faced on a strikeout, groundout, and a flyout. Because the Blue Jays wanted him to reach a certain pitch count, but did not want him to sit for a half-inning then warm up again, the old rules of baseball were bent slightly and Janssen was allowed to face a fourth batter in the inning--and retired him on a line drive. In total, Janssen threw 16 pitches, 11 of them for strikes. Again, he mostly threw fastballs, but did throw in several changeups. He will likely pitch again this week, possibly on Wednesday after two days of rest.
Opening Day is just over two weeks away (that's good!), and he has yet to pitch on back-to-back days (that's bad!). In fact, I haven't found any reports that he has even thrown with just one day's rest. He also hasn't thrown a curve or a cutter this spring. I haven't seen him pitch at all, but I think it is highly unlikely that Casey Janssen will be ready to pitch with the big club by Opening Day. The Blue Jays need a closer who is equipped with his full arsenal and is ready to throw on consecutive days. Because of the depth of bullpen options this season, the club really has no reason to rush the right hander to get ready for the first week. He can stay behind in extended spring training for a week or two, and then head up to throw a couple of rehab sessions with the Bisons before re-joining the Blue Jays by the week of April 22.
On a related note, the current closer-apparent Sergio Santos returned to the major league camp's mound for the first time since March 3 this Saturday and threw nine pitches to retire all three Orioles who came up to face him. He is scheduled to pitch again tomorrow after Mark Buehrle. His plan is to increase his workload and pitch on back-to-back days as well as in two-inning appearances before heading up to Toronto for Opening Day.
UPDATE (March 19):
The National Post's John Lott reported that, according to John Gibbons, Casey Janssen still has a chance to be ready for Opening Day, which is two weeks from today. That probably means that Janssen felt good after throwing his inning in minor league camp.
Gibbons: Janssen still could be ready for opener, Lawrie too if he responds well to next treatment stage, which starts today.— John Lott (@LottOnBaseball) March 19, 2013