Notes: Jays respond to Hillenbrand
GM Ricciardi wants to just 'turn the page' on 2006 saga
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- For the Blue Jays, it's a dead horse that Shea Hillenbrand won't stop beating. He had an ugly exit out of Toronto last season, but Hillenbrand's continuous comments aren't going to rile up his former employer.
"It's 2007. Let's turn the page," Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi said on Thursday. "I'm not going to worry too much about what Shea Hillenbrand said."
Hillenbrand's latest rant on Ricciardi's regime came in Thursday's edition of the Toronto Sun. Hillenbrand, who was traded last July after publicly criticizing the Blue Jays and manager John Gibbons, launched into another diatribe aimed at multiple people within the Toronto organization.
"J.P. tried to bury me," Hillenbrand told the newspaper. "J.P. will deny it, but he told my agent, Dan Lozano, they'd bury me ... keep cutting down on my playing time, unless I got in line."
While with Toronto, Hillenbrand -- now with the Angels -- openly discussed his dissatisfaction with serving as a designated hitter. Last July 18, he returned to Toronto after tending to the adoption of his daughter in California, and then launched into a pregame tirade on July 19 after his name wasn't in the lineup.
A clubhouse incident that same day sealed Hillenbrand's fate with the Jays. He wrote "Play for yourselves" on a whiteboard, which angered Toronto catcher Gregg Zaun. Zaun then added "Play for your contract," turned to Hillenbrand and sarcastically asked, "Isn't this what you mean?"
"If I had to do it all over again, I would've just erased everything that was on the board," Zaun said. "That probably would've been the end of the situation. But instead, I let it marinate. I let him sit there and I left it on the board for him to look at, and for other people to see in our clubhouse."
Zaun then left the room, and Hillenbrand added "This ship is sinking" to the board. Gibbons received word of the exchange and later confronted Hillenbrand in a players-only meeting. It was the last straw for Gibbons, who said he'd quit before managing Hillenbrand another game, and Toronto designated the player for assignment later that night.
In Thursday's article, Hillenbrand took a shot at Zaun, among others, saying: "I'm not a guy like Gregg Zaun who claims he's a leader, I'm a competitor."
"One thing he said that I agree with is, 'I'm a competitor,'" Zaun said in response. "Absolutely, Shea is a fight-to-the-death kind of competitor. The one thing I didn't like was him taking shots at other people. He made a comment about me today and it's unfortunate.
"Most of the people that know me in this clubhouse, they know that I'm not exactly the kind of guy that's going to walk around and pound my chest and say, 'I'm a leader. Follow me.' I just go and do my business, and I try to keep the young guys on the right path."
There's one thing that everyone in Toronto's clubhouse agrees upon. If the Jays had their way, last year's falling out with Hillenbrand wouldn't be brought up again.
"I would love to see it put to rest," Zaun said. "I hope that Shea will be able to put it behind him and move on, because he's a great player and a great guy. Sometimes he's a little misunderstood."
Looking good: The quiet crack of a bat breaking is usually a good indicator of how well a pitcher is throwing. On Thursday, multiple pieces of lumber snapped after connecting feebly with pitches from Toronto hurlers Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan.
Halladay's first live session against hitters allowed him to test a new approach. Instead of throwing as many cut fastballs -- the pitch that helped lead to a right forearm strain a year ago -- Halladay plans on integrating more sinkers into his outings.
"I don't know if he threw a ball more than an inch or two off the corner all day. He was dynamite," Zaun said. "Obviously, him and [pitching coach Brad Arnsberg] have decided to make a few adjustments with the types of pitches that he's throwing. He seems to have already mastered it."
Gibbons was also impressed.
"That's one thing that makes Halladay so good," Gibbons said. "Whether he sinks it or cuts it, he's very aggressive and, not only does he throw strikes, he can pick the plate apart. There's a lot of things that separate him from the average Joe."
In the running: There's been plenty of talk about which pitchers might fill out Toronto's bullpen, but right-hander Jeremy Accardo's name has seldom been mentioned. One of the reasons is that Accardo isn't necessarily a lock for an Opening Day job with the Jays.
"He's fighting for a job," Ricciardi said. "But competition is a good thing."
Toronto acquired Accardo, 25, in the deal that sent Hillenbrand and reliever Vinnie Chulk to the Giants last July 22. Last season, Accardo had a 4.91 ERA in 38 games with San Francisco, but then posted a 5.97 ERA in 27 games for Toronto.
"We want to see him pitch good. We like the guy," Gibbons said. "He needs a good spring. The bullpen is up for grabs a little bit -- not a lot, but a little bit. We're going to take the best team north."
Early ailments: Brandon League, who had a tight hamstring last week, didn't participate in Thursday's workout due to a sore right shoulder. Toronto's medical staff is going to evaluate the extent of the injury. Pitchers Davis Romero (left shoulder) and Francisco Rosario (lower back) also are dealing with minor injuries.
Quotable: "I still love Shea and wish him all the best. I hope he does well -- except when he's playing us." -- Zaun
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.