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Luke Maile looks to bring some pop to back up catcher position

DUNEDIN, FLA.—Luke Maile has emerged as the front-runner to back up catcher Russell Martin this upcoming season, and the 27-year-old believes he can bolster a position that was a weakness for the Blue Jays last season.

While Maile struggled to a .146 average and a .406 OPS, the Jays were 20-16 in his 36 starts behind the plate. He threw out 35 per cent of the 19 runners attempting to steal. He knows there is room for improvement on both sides.

“I’m extremely confident with what I can do, but last year, I’m happy to say, is in the past for me,” Maile said. “I’m realistic, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask for me to be an offensive threat. I mean I’m six-three and 225 pounds. I should be able to drive the ball fairly consistently. I’ve done it in the past.”

Maile addressed the fact that all of a sudden he is the veteran in the room among the organization’s list of young prospects behind the plate.

“I think there’s things that I can learn, still from Russ obviously, but even from these young (catchers),” Maile said. “I remember being in their shoes.”

AXFORD HAD OPTIONS: Much like the Mounties, the Blue Jays like to believe they always get their man. In this case, after he came close to signing with Toronto in 2015, the Jays finally signed hard-throwing right-hander John Axford to a minor-league contract with an invitation to major-league camp. It has been a late-developing free-agent landscape.

“I really wasn’t stressed out about it, in all honesty,” the Port Dover, Ont., native shrugged. “There were plenty of teams that were talking to me. It just seemed like it was just a matter of time before something would work out.”

Axford went on the disabled list with a shoulder strain last year — the first DL trip of his career — and was out of the game after being released by the A’s. He had a career-high 6.43 ERA in 22 games, well over the 3.71 mark he has averaged over nine seasons.

“Coming back from (the DL), I was still throwing hard and I still felt really strong. It’s just a matter of putting those things together out there on the mound, out there on the field.”

PETRICKA BELIEVES: Right-hander Jake Petricka was a valuable part of the White Sox bullpen in 2014 and 2015 — he saved 14 games as a fill-in closer in 2014 — but has been troubled by injuries since. A hip impingement ended his 2016 season and he had to deal with nerve and tendon issues last year. He appeared in just 27 games and had an ugly 7.01 ERA.

“Injuries happen, but the plan is always to come back stronger from the mistakes you made to get injured in the first place,” said the 29-year-old Minnesotan, who will be a long shot to begin the season in the majors. Still, he believes in himself.

“Right now my goal is to get healthy and show it,” Petricka said. “I know when I’m healthy what I can do and I’ll show them that.”

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