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Richmond prepared for next challenge

Richmond prepared for next challenge

The following is the second in a series of four stories this week examining the candidates for the two vacancies at the back end of the Blue Jays' rotation. Today, we'll preview one of the front-runners: Scott Richmond.

TORONTO -- Scott Richmond isn't expecting anything to be handed to him. After all, the Blue Jays pitcher knows all too well that it often takes time and plenty of perseverance in order to reach one's goals.

Richmond's rise to the Major Leagues last season was improbable and aided by circumstance. But after years of clinging to a dream that nearly slipped away, Richmond now finds himself in an unusual position. He's suddenly in the spotlight.

Not only is Richmond the top available arm for Team Canada for the World Baseball Classic, he's also a leading candidate for a spot within Toronto's rotation. It's a delicate balancing act that Richmond said he's ready to take on, but he knows he'll have plenty of competition for a job with the Jays.

"I've always been the underdog," said Richmond, who was in Toronto on Saturday for a Baseball Canada dinner and fund-raiser. "I've overcome things my whole career, and I feel like it's the same thing this Spring Training."

That might be the smart way for Richmond to view the situation, considering there are at least seven pitchers in the discussion for the two openings on Toronto's starting staff. Casey Janssen is the favorite for the fourth spot behind Roy Halladay, Jesse Litsch and David Purcey, leaving quite the battle for the final job.

Richmond, 29, believes that pitching in the World Baseball Classic could help give him an edge in the race for the fifth spot. As things stand, Richmond appears to be the first choice to take the mound for Canada on March 7, when the team opens the first round of the tournament against the United States at Rogers Centre in Toronto.

"I feel I'll be facing the best in the world," said Richmond, who is from North Vancouver, British Columbia. "It will be a great opportunity for me to show the Blue Jays that, 'Hey, [I] can compete here.'"

Last year, Richmond -- summoned from Triple-A in July after injuries decimated Toronto's rotation -- performed admirably in his brief tour with the Jays.

In five starts, the 6-foot-5 Richmond went 1-3 with a 4.00 ERA, striking out 20 and walking just two over 27 innings. His first four outings had eerily similar lines, with three runs allowed and at least five innings logged in each. Richmond made the most of his final start, though, blanking the Orioles over six innings at Camden Yards.

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Richmond was finally receiving his shot and he didn't want to waste the opportunity, especially after he had come so close to walking away from the game. Before being offered a Minor League contract by Toronto last year, Richmond was beginning to contemplate life after baseball.

Things have changed.

"It's been a huge turnaround," Richmond said. "It's exactly what I dreamed of, and it's all become a reality. Instead of focusing on a different career, I'm focusing even harder than ever on this one."

Following high school, Richmond received no attention from college programs, let alone big league scouts. He kept pitching in amateur summer leagues, while also working in the Vancouver docks, scraping the rust off hulls of ships.

Richmond later made his way to the United States, where he pitched for two different colleges before attending Oklahoma State. Visa problems kept Richmond from being selected in the First-Year Player Draft, so he later spent three seasons with Edmonton in the independent Northern League.

Then, finally, the Blue Jays came calling.

"I've been told that, 'You're not going to make it.'" Richmond said after being called up in July. "I've been told a lot of things: 'You're too old, you got a late start, you didn't go to a big school.' I've overcome all of that."

Richmond's initial promotion didn't come without some controversy, though. The right-hander was scheduled to head to Beijing with Team Canada for the Summer Olympics, but he lost that chance when Toronto added him to its staff. Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi was the target of some criticism for the move, but Richmond insisted his dream was to pitch in the Majors.

"To me, it's better to have that than to not have anything at all," Richmond said of the controversy. "I'm just so grateful to be in this position."

Richmond finds himself in a similar position again. Without pitchers Ryan Dempster, Erik Bedard, Jeff Francis and Rich Harden, Team Canada is turning to Richmond to help lead its staff. At the same time, Richmond wants to make sure he doesn't fall behind in the competition for a job with the Blue Jays.

"It's been difficult for me just to embrace it all," Richmond said. "I'm just trying to be respectful of everybody and also my own wishes of wanting to play for my country. ... The Blue Jays are giving me this fantastic opportunity, and I want to make them the happiest that I can."

Injuries have helped Richmond's ascent up the depth chart for both Team Canada and Toronto. In the case of the Jays, the club lost A.J. Burnett to the Yankees in free agency this winter, and Toronto is also without Dustin McGowan (right shoulder) until at least May and Shaun Marcum (right elbow) until 2010.

Richmond is hoping to take full advantage of the opportunity. He worked with a personal trainer over the winter in Los Angeles to prepare his body for a full season, and he's already headed to Florida to get started with Spring Training.

"There are two spots available and I want to get one," Richmond said. "I want to show them that I'm dedicated to it, and I'm going down there earlier to work as hard as I can."

Coming Wednesday: We'll take a look at a pair of reclamation projects in pitchers Matt Clement and Mike Maroth. Both are returning from injuries and looking for a fresh start with the Blue Jays, who are giving Clement and Maroth a chance at claiming one of the rotation spots.

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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{"content":["hot_stove" ] }