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Jays' catcher's job is Arencibia's to lose

Toronto Blue Jays catching hopeful J.P. Arencibia works out at the Blue Jays' spring training baseball facility in Dunedin, FL, Monday, February 22, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

Darren Calabrese

It was a debut that dreams are made of when J.P. Arencibia broke in with the Toronto Blue Jays last season and swatted two home runs in his first game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

It made him an instant household name among Blue Jay aficionados who were clamouring for more heroics each and every time he stepped to the plate after that.

Only trouble was, Arencibia wasn't given that much of an opportunity after his dynamic start.

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An emergency call-up from Triple-A Las Vegas in early August after all-star catcher John Buck injured his thumb, Arencibia was with the Blue Jays for a total of 11 games during that span and saw action in five games.

After his big start, Arencibia only collected one more hit in his next 15 plate appearances before he was sent back down to Triple-A.

He was recalled as part of the September call-ups but former manager Cito Gaston rarely pencilled him into the lineup, and Arencibia finished the season going 0-for-17 in the six games he played.

"When you play sporadically like that it's a battle," Arencibia, 25, said about his struggles.

Playing time should not be an issue this coming season where Arencibia has all but been handed the starting catcher's job after Buck left the team as a free agent and signed with the Florida Marlins.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos has yet to sign another front-line catcher meaning the starting job is Arencibia's to lose as the Blue Jays head into spring training.

"Really I'm not worried about the outside stuff," he said when asked about the big opportunity he is being afforded. "If I take care of my business then, whatever they decide, that's their decision."

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Arencibia was speaking on Friday from the Scarborough YMCA, the first stop of the Blue Jays Winter Tour, a reincarnation of sorts of the old winter caravan program the club introduced to fans back in 1977 during their first year of operation.

He was joined by pitchers Brad Mills and a slimmed-down Jesse Litsch and the trio took turns addressing a group of young children in an activity room that the American League club outfitted with games and computers through its foundation.

On Monday the tour will continue in Kitchener before heading out to Western Canada with stops in Calgary and then Vancouver.

With Toronto's attendance dipping to just over 20,000 fans a game last season despite fielding a pretty good team, Blue Jays president Paul Beeston admits the organization has to do all it can to attract a wider audience.

"I think this is going to be extremely beneficial to showing our interest in giving back [to the community]and hopefully drumming up some interest in the ballclub at the same time," Beeston said.

"It's kind of going back to our roots."

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Arencibia said he has been working diligently keeping himself in shape and carefully watching what he eats, along with studying film of all the Blue Jays pitchers to get himself ready for his next challenge.

He said he is confident he will be able to compete at the Major League level when given a consistent opportunity.

"I know the kind of player I am, I know what I bring to the table, the Blue Jays know what I bring to the table," Arencibia said.

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