PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Blue Jays remain confident that right-hander Marco Estrada, who has been dealing with a back issue this spring, will be ready to step into the rotation when the regular season opens.
Estrada, who went 13-8 with a 3.13 ERA last season, threw on the side in Dunedin, Fla., on Wednesday morning.
"He threw a side and felt great," said pitching coach Pete Walker after the Blue Jays beat the Rays, 5-1, at Charlotte Sports Park. "That's his third side. He's scheduled for a live BP next. And if it all goes well, he'll be in a game."
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He is tentatively scheduled to face hitters on Saturday and could start a Grapefruit League game as early as Tuesday.
Including the playoffs, Estrada topped 200 innings last season, so the plan had been to bring him along slowly even before his back began acting up. He is likely to get four Grapefruit League starts.
Said Walker: "That depends on how he's feeling and throwing, if everything progresses accordingly. But his arm feels great right now. So as long as he feels no ill effects from throwing, he'll be out there. He should be ready to break.
"[The timetable] is pretty close to what we envisioned anyway. I talk to him every day, and he's very optimistic that he's going to be able to break with us. [His back] has been a little stiff this spring, but over the last five to seven days it's been much improved. Right now, the way it's progressing and the way he feels, I feel really good about the next session, which should be facing hitters. And if all goes well he'll be in a game after that."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.