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Notes: Big Hurt taking it easy

Notes: Big Hurt taking it easy

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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays cleared out of the clubhouse at the Bobby Mattick Training Center on Wednesday, leaving behind a disorganized mess of empty chairs and overstuffed equipment bags.

In the back corner of the room, Frank Thomas sat in front of his locker. The Big Hurt was taking his time. Toronto's designated hitter was in no rush to leave the complex, which will be taken over by the club's Minor Leaguers for the rest of the spring.

Thomas will also be taking things slow, as the Blue Jays get ready to kick off their Spring Training exhibition schedule. The 6-foot-5, 270-pound slugger will use the next week to continue to build the strength in his legs and probably won't appear in a Grapefruit League game until March 9 at the earliest.

"We're just going to ease him in and make sure his legs are ready to go and everything, before he gets in there and runs the bases," said Toronto manager John Gibbons, who made sure Thomas approved of the timetable first.

"I really want to get my legs up under me before I get into game-time speed," Thomas said. "I've been sprinting every other day, but I really want to make sure I'm ready to run at that speed in the games."

After signing a two-year, $18.12 million deal with the Jays in November, Toronto's medical staff asked Thomas to hold off on running until this spring. Thomas was limited to 108 games due to a severe left ankle injury in the 2004-05 seasons and the Jays didn't want him taking any unnecessary risks, even though the foot didn't present a problem for him in 2006 with Oakland.

"The doctors and [team trainer George Poulis] and everybody didn't want me running over the offseason," explained Thomas, who had 39 home runs and 114 RBIs in 2006. "It's one of those things where I haven't run since October. I just started last week. But everything's fine; everything's great."

Even though Thomas will miss at least the first week of games, he'll still be significantly ahead of the schedule he was on last spring. In 2006, Thomas was still recovering from surgery on his foot and he didn't begin running until late March. He only had 12 at-bats in six spring games with the A's.

"Last year was a little different. It was wait and see," Thomas said. "I really didn't start running until the last two weeks of Spring Training. This year, I'm looking forward to getting everything going and getting a lot of at-bats, so when the season starts, I'll be ready to go."

The League factor: There are a number of questions currently surrounding Toronto's bullpen. The Jays know they will carry seven relievers, but there's a group of pitchers vying for a few of the final spots. Toronto also isn't positive what is going to happen with its setup-man job.

Gibbons said the bullpen picture will become a little clearer when Toronto knows if right-hander Brandon League will be available for Opening Day. League has been dealing with tightness near his throwing shoulder, and he has been off a mound for about a week.

"Everything pretty much right now is revolving around League," Gibbons said. "Hopefully, he'll be ready. If not, it shouldn't be too long after the start of the season. That's the biggest concern right now."

League, who had a 2.53 ERA in 33 games with Toronto in 2006, entered spring as the club's top candidate to replace setup man Justin Speier -- signed by the Angels over the winter. League threw off flat ground Tuesday, and Gibbons said the pitcher might be back on a mound in a few days.

Sitting out: Thomas isn't the only Jays starter who will be serving as a spectator for Toronto's Grapefruit League opener Thursday. Gibbons said that outfielders Reed Johnson and Alex Rios will also be out of the lineup.

Johnson is suffering from a sore back and could miss the first few games as a precaution. Gibbons added that Johnson would probably ease into batting practice over the next couple days before being penciled back into the lineup.

"Reed Johnson, his back's banged up a little bit," Gibbons said. "It's a little tight, so we'll hold him out for a couple days. We'll give him a break. He's got nothing to prove."

Rios has been dealing with a tender right shoulder since he arrived at Spring Training. He's been able to play catch, but Gibbons doesn't want him playing right feld for a while. The plan is to have Rios sit out until Friday, when he'll likely rejoin the lineup as Toronto's DH.

Lineup card: No Thomas. No Johnson. No Rios. The good news for fans making the trek to Knology Park in Dunedin, Fla., on Thursday? The rest of the regulars should be in the starting lineup.

Gibbons said first baseman Lyle Overbay, second baseman Aaron Hill, shortstop Royce Clayton, third baseman Troy Glaus, center fielder Vernon Wells and catcher Gregg Zaun are all slated to start. Adam Lind will likely play left field, Matt Stairs will probably man right and Curtis Thigpen might serve as the DH.

Quotable: "It's time to see some games. You get tired of watching this out here." -- Gibbons, on spending the past two weeks observing workouts

Coming up: Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay is scheduled to start and pitch two innings against the Red Sox in Toronto's spring home opener at 1:05 p.m. ET on Thursday. Boston will send left-hander Kason Gabbard to the mound.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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