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Notes: Shoulder trouble for Thomson

Notes: Shoulder trouble for Thomson

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays took some risks this past winter, signing a handful of pitchers who were coming off recent injuries. If one or two of the players returned to full strength, they could provide inexpensive solutions for the holes in Toronto's rotation.

One of those acquisitions was right-hander John Thomson, who sat out more than two months last season due to pain in his throwing shoulder. Toronto signed Thomson to a one-year contract and added him into the mix for one of the available starting jobs.

A pair of poor outings have hurt Thomson's chances of winning a spot on the Opening Day roster, but a newly discovered injury could very well take him out of the running altogether. Thomson's right shoulder is bothering him, and Toronto will have the pitcher undergo an MRI exam to determine the extent of the injury.

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"He's just got a tight shoulder right now," general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "We're going to shut him down for five or six days and just give him a chance to build it up a little bit and rest it up a little bit."

Ricciardi added that he didn't believe there was anything structurally wrong with Thomson's shoulder. The 33-year-old pitcher was scheduled to start next on Saturday against the Yankees in Tampa, Fla., but he'll miss that outing, and perhaps one more before the Jays consider putting him on the mound again.

Manager John Gibbons wasn't even sure Thomson would be able to make another appearance this spring.

"I don't know," Gibbons said. "It's going to be awful tough."

Victor Zambrano, who signed a Minor League deal with the Jays over the winter, will likely take Thomson's place as the starter versus New York. Right-hander Tomo Ohka, who signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 million in the offseason, is scheduled to pitch in a Triple-A game that day.

Zambrano and Ohka are also coming off recent injuries and are vying for spots in Toronto's rotation. Zambrano, who has a 0.93 ERA this spring, is 10 months removed from elbow reconstruction surgery, and Ohka, who has allowed just one run in his last 13 innings, missed time with a shoulder problem last season.

Aside from those two starters, Thomson is also in competition with right-hander Josh Towers for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. On Monday, Thomson pitched in a Minor League game against Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and gave up six runs on four hits in five innings. He's given up 12 runs on nine hits in his last 8 2/3 innings.

Jays scouting Cuban pitcher: The Blue Jays are one of five teams showing interest in Cuban pitcher Edysbel Benitez, according to the player's agent, Joe Rosario.

Benitez, a 22-year-old right-handed starter, defected from Cuba nearly two years ago after pitching for Cuba's national team. This past winter, Benitez posted a 3.38 ERA in 72 innings for Leon in the Nicaraguan Winter Baseball League.

"He's Major League-ready right now," said Rosario, who is seeking a three-year big-league deal for the pitcher. "If a deal gets done, he'd probably only need four or five games in Triple-A and then I think he'd be ready."

According to Rosario, Benitez has been in the Dominican Republic for the past three weeks, and Marco Paddy, Toronto's director of Latin American operations, is scheduled to watch the pitcher in a game on Tuesday. A source within the Jays organization confirmed that Paddy was scouting the pitcher, but wasn't sure what Toronto's level of interest was.

The 6-foot-3, 238-pound Benitez throws five pitches and can reach 92-94 mph on his fastball, according to Rosario. The righty also throws a splitter, curveball, slider and changeup.

Under the weather: Shortstop Royce Clayton was originally slated to start against the Phillies on Wednesday night, but was a late scratch due to flu-like symptoms. Infielder Jason Smith started in Clayton's place. Closer B.J. Ryan had a similar issue earlier this month.

"Something's going around," Gibbons said. "[Clayton] showed up today and wasn't feeling well. So, we gave him the day off."

Ryan still resting: Ryan, who is currently dealing with a sore lower back, played catch on Wednesday and could make it back into a Grapefruit League game by this weekend. Ryan hasn't appeared in a Spring Training game since March 11.

Going yard: Designated hitter Frank Thomas, who signed a two-year deal worth $18.12 million in November, smashed his first home run in a Blue Jays uniform on Wednesday. Thomas lifted a 2-1 offering from Phillies lefty Fabio Castro deep to left-center field for a two-run blast.

Coming up: Toronto right-hander Roy Halladay (1-0, 1.00 ERA) is scheduled to make his fourth start of the spring when the Blue Jays host the Pirates at 1:05 p.m. ET on Thursday 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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