Blue Jays host annual State of the Franchise

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Rays manager Joe Maddon was asked to assess this year's American League East, and he noted that all the teams needed to watch out for Toronto, the team forecast by many to win the division in 2013 before it finished last.

"The team that's really interesting is this one, because nobody's talking about Toronto this year," Maddon said while pointing to the Blue Jays taking batting practice. "And I think be heads up, because nobody's talking about them this year. And I think they'd probably prefer it that way."

As for the rest of the AL East, Maddon surmised: "It is what it is every year, and I kind of like it. I really do. I think it brings out the best in all of us. I love playing in our division. There are no pushovers."

Romero re-emerges with dominance vs. Rays

TB@TOR: Romero strikes out Shaffer

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Ricky Romero ended his two innings of work Friday with a strikeout of the Rays' Richie Shaffer, and for the first time in recent memory, he pumped his fist in celebration.

The Blue Jays left-hander allowed just a bloop single and one walk over both a scoreless seventh and eighth inning. The performance left him fired up, and the emotion was even more evident in the reaction of his teammates.

Players lined the dugout to greet him, and the likes of Mark Buehrle, Dioner Navarro, Brett Lawrie and Adam Lind had high-fives and words of encouragement waiting in the clubhouse upon his arrival. It seems everyone is rooting for the comeback.

"It's crazy, it just shows you that these guys really care, and they want to see me back up there," Romero said. "They know what I can bring when I'm good. I wasn't expecting it, it was crazy, seeing Buehrle and Navarro and everyone else. It feels really good."

The outing came several days after an outing vs. the Orioles in which Romero walked the first two batters he faced. Control has been his biggest issue the past couple of years, and at times it appears to have caused him a lot of mental anxiety on the mound.

That is one reason why Romero and the Blue Jays decided to keep things simple on Friday afternoon. He didn't try to paint the corners and instead had catcher Josh Thole set up in the middle of the plate for each pitch.

"I told Thole before, I told him just set up down the middle for right now, because everything is moving, everything has action; if I try to hit corners, it's going to end up a ball," Romero said. "So that's what we did.

"It feels good just to be back out there for more than one inning, the feeling of sitting down and getting back up and just trying to take advantage of every opportunity that's given to me right now, and we'll see what happens."

The Blue Jays have a couple of open spots in the rotation for which Romero could be considered. The problem is that he was removed from the 40-man roster last year, and his name is rarely mentioned by either the coaching staff or the front office as a viable candidate.

The only way Romero will enter that mix is by forcing the club's hand through his results. He has not been handed anything over the past couple of years, but with a few more outings like the one he had Friday afternoon, it is possible his name will once again be on the club's radar.

"Obviously my goal is to make the team out of camp," Romero said. "But I'm going to take advantage of every opportunity, whether it's the seventh, eighth inning, whether it's a start here and there. I don't make those decisions.

"All I can do is make it hard on them, just take a look at me, because I feel like my stuff is starting to come along. I still feel like it's a work in progress. I'm not worried about it."

Goins' bat questionable, but it may not matter

Outlook: Goins will battle for playing time in '14

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos didn't hold back earlier this week in his praise of second baseman Ryan Goins.

Goins is technically competing for the starting job at second base, but in all likelihood he will receive most of the work up the middle. Maicer Izturis is also in the mix but will probably spend most of the year in a utility role while starting against left-handed pitchers.

The Blue Jays still don't know what to expect offensively from Goins, but Anthopoulos said his defense made him a standout.

"Defensively, the more you watch him, the more you realize how good he is defensively, just his actions, the way he moves," Anthopoulos said.

"We're going to value the defense because it's that good. He has room to do less offensively because the defense is so elite. I don't use that word lightly. I really think he's elite, and he's got a chance to win a Gold Glove there."

Goins came up through the Minor Leagues as a shortstop but made a flawless transition to second base late last season. He has tremendous range up the middle, good hands and a quick release that is especially valuable when turning a double play.

The big question mark about Goins, though, is the bat, and the questions really won't be answered once and for all until the start of the regular season.

"The tough part is, you realize it's two at-bats a game, three at-bats a game; the competition level varies," Anthopoulos said of Goins' spring audition.

"Goins is the front-runner because of the defense that he showed, but he still has to earn that job."

For Rasmus, no timeline but a scheduled first step

Outlook: Rasmus entering his prime with solid power

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Colby Rasmus is getting closer in his return to the Blue Jays' lineup, but he remains day to day with a sore neck.

Rasmus has been out of the Blue Jays' lineup since last Friday after he woke up with a stiff neck. Earlier this week he had a cortisone shot to relieve some of the pain, but there does not appear to be anything structurally wrong.

Toronto's center fielder was expected to resume baseball activities on Saturday morning and should get into a game within the next few days.

"We're going off what the doctor said," Rasmus said Friday morning. "He said to wait until tomorrow to see how it feels. Give the shot three days of work and let the spasm get out of there and go from there. See how it feels on Saturday, and if it feels good, then start back with baseball activities."

Rasmus does not seem overly concerned about the time away from baseball, and he still has more than three weeks to prepare for Opening Day. That will give him lots of opportunities for future at-bats, and the neck injury is not expected to linger for much longer.

The 27-year-old is getting ready for his most important season yet in the Major Leagues. A former first-round Draft pick, he is eligible for free agency at the end of the year and could be in line for a very lucrative payday during the offseason.

In order to gain that long-term security, Rasmus will need to build on a breakout 2013 campaign that saw him hit .276 with 22 homers and 66 RBIs in 118 games. He also posted an impressive .840 OPS with 49 extra-base hits.

"I feel fine; last year I felt fine, and I missed some at-bats," Rasmus said. "It's just one of those things, I don't know. Baseball throws curveballs that you've got to be able to make adjustments and keep working with it and grind through it, find a solution to keep going."