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Blue Jays manager confirms Brandon Morrow as fifth starter in rotation

Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Brandon Morrow (23) poses for a photo at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium.

Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

Right-hander Brandon Morrow, who started last season second in the Jays pitching rotation, will open the 2014 campaign as the Jays' fifth starter.

Toronto manager John Gibbons says the move to the fifth spot is partially to give Morrow more time to get ready. He declined to provide further reasons, saying all would be revealed on the rotation in good time.

Prior to Tuesday, Morrow had pitched eight innings this spring, giving up seven earned runs on 12 hits with four strikeouts and four walks. He was scheduled to throw in a minor league game Tuesday.

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Gibbons said he's happy with what he's seen from the 29-year-old Morrow, who is due to make US$8 million this season.

"Yeah, he's fine," he told reporters prior to the Jays' road game Tuesday against the Detroit Tigers. "The key with him is his health. That's what's limited him the last couple of years. If he's good, he's strong and makes all his starts or at least most of them, we've got one of the better pitchers in baseball. But that's been tough for him to do the last couple of years."

Morrow's 2013 season was cut short by an impinged nerve in his right forearm. He went 2-3 with a 5.63 ERA in 10 starts before being shut down. A torn oblique muscle cost him more than two months of the 2012 campaign.

Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey will open the season on the mound for the Jays on March 31 in Tampa. Gibbons has said left-hander Mark Buehrle will start third, to separate him from Dickey.

If Morrow goes fifth, he will pitch the home opener April 4 against the Yankees.

That leaves the No. 2 and 4 positions with Gibbons saying one spot goes to left-hander J.A. Happ.

The team has yet to confirm the last starter but it is widely believed that Drew Hutchison has pitched his way into the rotation.

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Gibbons said he's happy with the pitching weapons at his disposal.

"Yeah, I really like the way it's setting up. I really do ... There's still some decisions to be made but I'm very pleased," he said.

Pitching was a major problem last season when Toronto starters combined for a 46-57 record and a 4.81 ERA. Only Minnesota had an higher ERA (5.26) among its starters.

Morrow threw 3 2/3 innings Tuesday in a Jays' minor league intra-squad game that also saw Buehrle pitch.

Morrow gave up two runs with two walks and two strikeouts. He threw 63 pitches, 36 for strikes

"Everything's coming along well," he said. "I got established what I wanted to establish today with the fastball command, with the nice zip and pop on that, and you could see the guys were behind it at times, regardless of the velocity.

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"It wasn't my best velocity, but the swings tell you whether or not you're locating well and the kind of life on it, so that was positive. Everything else has been coming along really well."

Buehrle gave up three runs (two earned) in 4 1/3 innings with two walks and three strikeouts.

NOTES — Closer Casey Janssen, on a slower spring training track to protect against shoulder soreness, threw live batting practice Tuesday. "All in all, good to get on a mound, good to get a little bit of adrenalin going, and most importantly, it's good to feel good," he said.

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