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Gibbons gets set for 2nd stint with Jays

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TORONTO (AP) - A lot has changed about the Toronto Blue Jays since John Gibbons last managed them.

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Seeking to end a playoff drought that dates to their second straight World Series crown in 1993, the Blue Jays remade their roster this winter. They pulled off two huge trades that landed, among others, reigning NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes.

Toronto also acquired pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle in the deal for Reyes. The Blue Jays were active in free agency as well, signing outfielder Melky Cabrera and infielder Maicer Izturis.

Turns out a lot has changed for Gibbons, too. And before his second stint with the Blue Jays begins, he plans to talk to his players about handling the lofty expectations they now face.

``Over the years you discover the importance of the little things like that, the team cohesion, everybody shooting for the same thing,'' Gibbons said Tuesday at an event for Blue Jays season-ticket holders.

``Talent alone doesn't win,'' he said. ``You've got to have the right guys going in the right direction.''

He told fans he's already made one decision: The knuckleballing Dickey will start on opening day, April 2 against Cleveland.

Dickey will be followed by right-hander Brandon Morrow, Buehrle, Johnson and lefty Ricky Romero.

Gibbons was in charge of the Blue Jays in 2006 when they added starter A.J. Burnett, closer B.J. Ryan, catcher Bengie Molina and infielder Tory Glaus. That team came in second in the AL East with a record of 87-75, Toronto's best finish since its last World Series title.

So, what will Gibbons do differently this year?

``Maybe talk about those things a little bit more, the importance of, `Hey, we've got to come together, this is what we've got to be shooting for,''' Gibbons said.

``I've always kind of been laid-back, do your thing,'' he went on. ``I'm hands-on, but I'm not a control guy. I may take a little more of an active role in that this go around.''

Gibbons' initial tenure with Toronto from 2004-07 isn't remembered for being quite so serene. Rather, he had two angry exchanges with his own players.

Infielder Shea Hillenbrand was swiftly traded in July 2006 after he wrote inflammatory messages on a clubhouse billboard, leading to a confrontation with his manager.

Just more than a month later, Gibbons got into an on-field argument with Ted Lilly while removing the left-hander from a start against Oakland. A furious Gibbons chased Lilly off the field and confronted him in the clubhouse tunnel.

With that fiery past in mind, Gibbons was asked whether he was looking forward to facing questions from a crowd of more than 1,200 season-ticket holders.

``That's kind of my specialty, isn't it?'' he joked.

Gibbons said he's seen early indications that his players are on the same page when it comes to competing.

``They've got that feeling that we've got a pretty good team here,'' he said. ``They're all saying the right things. You've still got to go out and do it and we've got to keep an eye on that. But you can tell teams that aren't playing together.

``There's no guarantee that you if you get a talented group that they're going to win anything. There's something a little bit more important, something that you've got to have and I think it's that cohesion,'' he added.

Gibbons offered some insight into how he'll handle the few position competitions brewing at spring training, which begins next week in Dunedin, Fla. He said Izturis is the front-runner to start at second base, ahead of Emilio Bonifacio. Acquired from Miami in the deal that also brought Reyes, Johnson and Buehrle to Toronto, Bonifacio is expected to serve in a utility role.

Edwin Encarnacion, coming off a career-high 42 home runs last season, will start at first base. Adam Lind is set to be tested against left-handed pitching in the spring to see whether he can handle DH on his own, or needs to be part of a platoon.

In the bullpen, Gibbons said right-hander Casey Janssen will begin as the closer, with Sergio Santos in a setup role. Santos missed almost all of last season after having shoulder surgery.

Janssen, who saved 22 games in Santos' absence, had surgery in November to address lingering shoulder soreness. Both are expected to be healthy for opening day.

Gibbons also said he expects to carry two catchers, not three, meaning Henry Blanco or Josh Thole will back up incumbent starter J.P. Arencibia.

Blue Jays President Paul Beeston declined to give specific numbers on season-ticket sales, but said subscriptions have climbed ``dramatically'' since last season, when Toronto drew just under 2.1 million fans.

``That word is used after consideration,'' Beeston said. ``I'm not just saying it.''

Still, Toronto's path to the playoffs won't be easy. The Blue Jays need a strong effort against four AL East opponents that, as Gibbons pointed out, ``have all been pounding on us for too long now.''

NOTES: The Blue Jays announced that retired pitcher Jack Morris has joined their broadcasting crew for the coming season. Morris played on Toronto's World Series teams in 1992 and 1993. He matched his career high with 21 wins in 1992. Morris, who retired in 1995, will work primarily on radio and make occasional appearances on television.

AP NEWS
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The Associated Press
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