The Toronto Sun’s Mike Rutsey on the plight of the defiant Kerry Ligtenberg, struggling to make the Blue Jays’ major league roster.

Kerry Ligtenberg is a realist. He is also adept at reading between the lines.

Despite being armed with a guaranteed contract for 2005 worth $2.5 million US, Ligtenberg knows he’s a long shot to make the club as one of the seven relievers.

Competition for the final two spots in the bullpen has been fierce and Ligtenberg, coming off a miserable injury-plagued season, could find himself the odd man out.

“There’s definitely a battle going on and they want to take the guys that are throwing the best and I understand that,” Ligtenberg said yesterday. “I know my situation and I’m probably on the bubble right now.

“I don’t think they really want to eat the salary but it’s something they may be willing to do if I’m not throwing that well.”

Health-wise, Ligtenberg says there’s no lingering effects from the inflammation in his left hip that pretty much crippled his season last year when he was 1-6 with a 6.38 ERA.

“The hip feels good,” he said. “The first 10 days I wasn’t feeling real good and we made an adjustment. The last three weeks my hip has been good, it hasn’t been an issue.

“After last year I feel like I really want to be here to prove at least to the fans that I don’t suck that bad.”

But the hip remains a cross Ligtenberg will have to bear until he proves otherwise and that doesn’t help his chances either with the Jays or elsewhere. There isn’t much of a market for 33-year-old relievers coming off a dreadful year with a hip problem.

“I kind of knew coming in we’ve got some young guys with good arms and great stuff and I knew it was going to be a fight,” he said. “Regardless of what happens, I’m just going to keep working hard. I’m not going to pout about it. I know I can still pitch. But it’s not my decision and I can’t worry about it.

“I know I can still get guys out.”

The chances are that for Ligtenberg it just won’t be in a Blue Jays uniform.