Blue Jays' Estrada close to first spring start

Blue Jays' Estrada close to first spring start

TAMPA -- Blue Jays right-hander Marco Estrada continues to make slow and steady progress from a lower back injury and there's a decent chance his next appearance will come in a Grapefruit League game.

Estrada made his first spring appearance Tuesday and tossed two scoreless innings on the Minor League side. He didn't allow a hit and struck out four in his first game since dealing with tightness in his lower back at the start of camp.

Toronto has yet to formally announce its next plans for Estrada. It's possible he will make another Minor League start but the club hasn't ruled out a big league appearance and all signs still point to him being with the Blue Jays at the start of the regular season.

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"He threw in the Minor Leagues and felt really good," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "The back issue is behind him and they said he looked pretty good too. [Pitching coach] Pete Walker is mapping all that [scheduling] out, there are some other guys we want to give looks to as well, it's not going to hurt him to go down and throw another game in the Minor Leagues too."

Estrada is rounding into form just in time. He likely will pitch three innings his next time out and will continue to get stretched out in preparation for the regular season. Toronto could buy him an extra few days by keeping him away from the Rays during the first series of the year and instead pitching him against the Red Sox or Yankees after a pair of off-days.

The 32-year-old Estrada is coming off a year in which he posted a 3.13 ERA while striking out 6.5 batters per nine innings over 34 appearances. The career season resulted in a two-year contract worth $26 million during the offseason.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.