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Notes: Zambrano has lofty goals

Notes: Recovering Zambrano has lofty goals

ST. PETERSBURG -- Victor Zambrano stood inside the clubhouse at Progress Energy Park on Sunday, wiping sweat from his forehead a few minutes removed from running sprints in the outfield.

The 31-year-old Blue Jays pitcher has been pushing himself hard this spring, trying to prove to Toronto that the right elbow injury he suffered last May is ancient history. Zambrano is recovering quickly from reconstructive surgery on the joint, and he's focused on one goal: cracking Toronto's rotation.

"I'm working every day, and I'm going for that," Zambrano said. "I've got a lot of confidence. [The Jays and I] are working together in everything we do. We're on the same page every day with everything we do, and I'm looking forward to being a starter."

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"Good for him. We like guys that want to shoot for the stars," Toronto pitching coach Brad Arnsberg replied with a smile. "He shouldn't have any other feeling. You don't come into camp to be a three-hole starter at Triple-A."

In reality, Zambrano probably won't be in Toronto's rotation come Opening Day -- no matter how good he feels. The right-hander is roughly nine months removed from elbow ligament replacement surgery, and it typically takes around a year for a pitcher to return after that type of operation.

There's no denying that Zambrano, who is 45-41 with a 4.45 ERA in his career, is recovering rapidly. On Sunday, he threw 24 pitches -- 16 for strikes -- and gave up one run on three hits in one inning of work. The numbers don't always tell the whole story, though.

Arnsberg said that Zambrano isn't completely comfortable with his curveball yet. Prior to Sunday's outing against Tampa Bay, the pitcher had only mixed his breaking pitch in a handful of bullpen sessions.

"He was all right. He looked healthy, most of all," Arnsberg said. "He was up in the zone a little bit, and his breaking ball was over the middle of the plate. Once he gets a better feel for his breaking ball, he's going to be able to start playing with the outer edge [of the plate]."

Toronto would probably consider using Zambrano out of the bullpen if the club feels he's ready in April or May. Otherwise, he'd likely begin the year in the rotation at Triple-A Syracuse and transition to the Majors later on.

Good start: John Thomson spent Saturday night tossing and turning in bed, but it was no use. It's the same thing that happens before every one of his starts, and Sunday was his first appearance for the Blue Jays.

"It doesn't matter if it was today or my 30th start in the season," Thomson said after his outing against Tampa Bay. "I still sleep the same way. For whatever reason, I don't sleep the night before I start."

It didn't get any easier when Thomson -- one of a handful of candidates for the fourth or fifth spot in Toronto's rotation -- arrived at the ballpark. The fact that he's a veteran didn't stop the 33-year-old from getting a serious case of nerves before he took the mound.

"I've always told myself, 'If I don't get nervous before a start, then it's about time to go ahead and hang it up,'" Thomson said. "Every start that I have, I'll take some kind of Rolaids or Tums or something to try to calm my stomach down."

Thomson shut out Tampa Bay for two innings but said he was a little too "amped up" in the first inning. In that frame, Thomson threw 20 pitches -- 13 for strikes -- and he allowed a single to Carl Crawford. Thomson was more calm in the second, when he needed only seven pitches, including six strikes, to set down the Rays in order.

It marked Thomson's first appearance since a relief outing with the Braves last September, and his first start since July 9, when he exited in the third inning due to a shoulder injury.

"It felt good to get back out there on the mound," said Thomson, who has a clean bill of health this spring. "I even talked to Brad [Arnsberg] after the first inning. I said, 'I was really geeked up, man. I was really excited to get back out there.'"

On the hill: Right-handers Dustin McGowan and Casey Janssen are scheduled to pitch in a "B" game against the Phillies at 10 a.m. ET on Monday in Clearwater. ... Right-hander Roy Halladay is slated to start Tuesday's road game against the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla. ... Starter A.J. Burnett will not be traveling with the Jays to Fort Myers, Fla., to take on the Red Sox on Thursday. Instead, Burnett is slated to pitch three innings against Philadelphia in a second "B" game, which is scheduled for 10 a.m. that same day at Knology Park in Dunedin, Fla.

How's Reed? On Saturday, Toronto left fielder Reed Johnson (stiff lower back) played catch for the first time in nearly a week. Manager John Gibbons said that Johnson received a cortisone shot in his back to help alleviate the problem. Johnson is expected to begin taking batting practice again soon.

All signed: The Blue Jays have agreed to terms on contracts with every player currently on their 40-man roster. On Sunday, Toronto signed 20 of those players to one-year deals for the 2007 season.

Quotable: "There's boy wonder." -- Gibbons, pointing to top prospect Adam Lind

Coming up: Toronto right-hander Josh Towers is scheduled to take on Pittsburgh left-hander Zach Duke when the Jays face the Pirates at 1:05 p.m. ET on Monday at Knology Park.

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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