Notes: Clayton nabs starting job

Notes: Clayton nabs starting job at shortstop

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Royce Clayton is penciled in as Toronto's starting shortstop. The Blue Jays were just a little hesistant to say as much when they signed him over the winter.

"There's a good chance he's the everyday shortstop," Toronto manager John Gibbons said Monday, his tone suggesting that the decision was made months ago.

Shortly after inking Clayton to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million in November, Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi said that the Jays might consider using a "two- or three-headed monster" at shortstop. Since then, though, Toronto has decided to hand the everyday job soley to Clayton, who has played in at least 133 games in nine of the past 10 seasons.

"We thought when we signed him he was going to have a chance to play a lot," Ricciardi said. "Gibby's comfortable with him being out there. He brings a lot more stability to our team and that's the way we're going to start."

The way things line up behind the 37-year-old Clayton on the depth chart remains a little hazy, though. Toronto has room to carry two infielders on its bench, but three players are currently in the mix for jobs.

One of the leading candidates would be veteran infielder John McDonald, who started 76 games at short last season for the Jays and is under contract for $750,000. Gibbons wanted to quash any notions that McDonald's status with the team was in jeopardy, though.

"Johnny Mac is a part of this," Gibbons said. "He's a good addition for us. He's helped us in the past, and we have a spot to carry two extra infielders."

Up for a job as an additional utility player is Jason Smith, who Toronto picked up from the Cubs in December's Rule 5 Draft. Smith can play all four infield positions and he would provide a left-handed bat off the bench. The Jays have to keep Smith on their 25-man roster this season. Otherwise, Toronto would have to return the 29-year-old infielder to Chicago.

"If we like him, we'd be crazy to give him back," Gibbons said.

The Blue Jays are also taking a good look this spring at infielder Ray Olmedo, who was claimed off waivers from the Reds in January. Olmedo is a switch-hitter and Toronto has been impressed with his defense.

"I think all of them are in competition with each other, said Ricciardi, referring to McDonald, Smith and Olmedo. "We've got to make our team the best team we can make it, and we'll see which ones give us the best advantage."

Up tempo: Gustavo Chacin shook his head and laughed. He couldn't help it. The Blue Jays pitcher was fielding his fifth straight question from reporters about his pace on the mound, and he was struggling to find a different answer.

"I've tried to have a good tempo in between my pitches and everything," said Chacin, who started against the Reds on Monday. "I think I've been doing good. Today was fine. I worked fast today."

A quicker tempo is something Toronto wants to see from Chacin, who has had a tendency to work slower in the past. The club's opinion is that an increased pace will help the left-hander get into a better rhythm, which in turn will help lower his pitch count.

"It's something we've mentioned to him," Gibbons said. "We came down here and we said, 'Hey, just try this. We think it'll help.' And he's done it. There's no question it's better to play behind guys who work fast."

Against Cincinnati, Chacin allowed two runs (one earned) while giving up five hits over four innings. He threw 57 pitches -- 32 for strikes -- and had two strikeouts and two walks.

Play 'em all: Toronto first baseman Lyle Overbay could be in for another busy year. When asked who would be the primary backup at first this season, Gibbons had an interesting response.

"I anticipate [Overbay] playing 162 games -- seriously," Gibbons said. "Last year, we gave him a blow a couple times, but he's too good of a hitter to sit down."

In 2006, Overbay appeared in 157 games, which ranked first for the Jays. The first baseman played a career-high 159 games for the Brewers in 2004. In fact, Overbay hasn't appeared in fewer than 157 games in each of the last three seasons.

Under the weather: B.J. Ryan, Toronto's All-Star closer, has posted a 9.00 ERA through three spring appearances, giving up three runs on five hits in three innings. All three runs the left-hander has allowed came in a one-inning outing on Sunday, but Gibbons said Ryan has been suffering from flu-like symptoms recently.

"He's been sick for two or three days," Gibbons said. "But we still wanted to get him in a game."

Roster moves: On Monday, the Blue Jays optioned right-handers Ryan Houston, Tracy Thorpe and Jean Machi to Triple-A Syracuse. Toronto now has 51 players, including 17 non-roster invitees, in camp with the Major League club.

Quotable: "We've seen [Chacin work slower] when he's pitched in the big leagues during the year, but since he's been down here it's been boom, boom, boom." -- Gibbons, on Chacin's improved tempo

Coming up: Toronto right-hander A.J. Burnett is scheduled to take on Boston righty Kyle Snyder when the Blue Jays host the Red Sox at 1:05 p.m. ET on Tuesday at Knology Park in Dunedin, Fla.

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