Blue Jays bring back Ohka as knuckleballer

Blue Jays bring back Ohka as knuckleballer

Blue Jays bring back Ohka as knuckleballer

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Blue Jays have brought a familiar face back into the fold by signing right-hander Tomo Ohka to a Minor League contract.

Ohka made 10 starts for the Blue Jays in 2007 and has been out of the big leagues for the past several years, but he is attempting to reinvent himself as a knuckleballer.

The 37-year-old has been refining the pitch in recent months and is expected to begin the year with Double-A New Hampshire. It's a no-lose situation for both sides, and Ohka will have the added benefit of working alongside former National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey during Spring Training.

"There's no downside to it, just take a shot," Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "The fact that we have R.A. here, the fact that we have Josh Thole here, [Mike] Nickeas here, why not try to take advantage of that? Bring some guys in and take a look and see where it goes.

"I have no idea [if it will work] to be honest with you, but he's a good athlete, has a repeatable delivery and is a strike thrower -- it's a pretty good combination. How much success he has, how it works, too hard to tell. But he does have some of the ingredients and he has the will."

Ohka spent parts of 10 seasons in the big leagues from 1999-2009 while playing for the Expos, Red Sox, Nationals, Brewers, Indians and Blue Jays. He owns a 51-68 record with a 4.26 ERA, but those numbers can be essentially thrown out the window as Ohka attempts to start from scratch.

Perhaps the biggest benefit for the Blue Jays is that Ohka's presence in camp will give their catchers more experience with a knuckleballer. Top prospect A.J. Jimenez likely will catch Ohka at the Double-A level, while fellow catchers Dioner Navarro, Thole and Erik Kratz can get more experience with the pitch.

"There's definitely some benefit to a guy like Jimenez, to learn how to catch him," Anthopoulos said. "There's always a benefit to having guys like that in camp. You're sitting there and saying you want to look at Navarro, you want to look at Kratz and you have to wait for R.A. every two days to throw a bullpen or something.

"But at the same time, we think Tomo might have a shot, so we'll see. I don't want to make it anything more than it is. There's no such thing as a bad Minor League deal, and we don't have anything to lose."

Toronto also has an open invitation to right-hander Josh Bank, who could attend Spring Training as well. The 31-year-old is a former second-round pick of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, but his career never really worked out. Anthopoulos said the Blue Jays' coaching staff always raved about his knuckleball, so he is considering making a similar transition.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.