Relief Woes

Do you ever get the feeling that no lead is safe for the Jays?

Do you ever get the feeling that no lead is safe for the Jays?  I’ll be the first to admit that when I see Gibbons on his way out to the mound to change the starter, a little voice in my head says “oh, shit”.  It has been some time since Jays fans could have any faith in their bullpen.  The last time it’s been lights out for other teams is when we had the Delabar/Loup/Cecil/Jannsen combo working to eat up the late innings of games a few years ago.  You get the notion that John Gibbons is feeling the same with his reluctance of late to use the bullpen when he could have.

Take Wednesday’s game when Marcus Stroman was pitching an excellent game and had a huge lead, but instead of letting his starter rest and taking him out after seven innings, Gibbons elected to let him go eight with a nine run lead.  It doesn’t restore any faith when the skipper brings in Brett Cecil in the 9th who promptly coughs up three runs and only records one out before being removed from the game.  The bullpen has been less than mediocre so far this season except for our Roberto Osuna, who at times can take you to the edge of your seat, but has generally been lights out.  Let’s take a look at our relievers and break down some of their troubles and strengths through 96 games.

Drew Storen:

One of the most called upon options in the bullpen, Storen was traded from the Nationals this year for Ben Revere.  He’s pitched in 37 games for a total of 32 innings this season.  He has struggled to get outs and keep runs off the board.  The Blue Jays gave up much needed speed on the bags with Revere, for the hard throwing Storen, but Drew has the potential to be an effective late reliever. He has struggled with locating his pitches which has led to a high ERA and WHIP, and hasn’t done much to instil confidence with Manager Gibbons in tight situations.

Aaron Loup:

With his unusual delivery, Loup can, and has been an excellent option for the Jays to eat up an inning or two when the starter struggles – or in extra innings.  Injured at the beginning of the season with a flexor strain in his pitching elbow, then sent back to the minors after struggling in the bullpen, Loup was recently recalled and has seen some action in the middle and late innings. This is not the Aaron Loup we are used to from the 2012-2014 seasons when he regularly shut down batters and gave the Jays an effective option for relief innings.  It is hard to figure out whether the scouting reports are making him an easy target for batters, or if he is just having command issues. If he doesn’t get it together soon he could find himself back in Buffalo, and no one wants to be in Buffalo, even the chicken wings.

Brett Cecil:

This guy is just puzzling.  Upon the sight of him jogging out of the bullpen, many Jays fans let out an uncontrollable groan of discomfort followed by nauseating fear and doubt.  Cecil has had times when he is absolutely lights out, and times when he is absolutely awful. It is unclear whether Brett needs a new eyeglass prescription or some work on his mechanics, but he definitely cannot be relied upon in any games that are remotely close.  You get the feeling that management feels the same way, as he was grudgingly brought in with a huge lead on Thursday only to end up doing his best to blow it.  It might be a long time before he sees the light of day again in a game where the Jays need outs.

Jesse Chavez:

Brought back to Toronto from Oakland after a short stint with the Jays in 2009, Chavez has been mostly effective in 35 games with 36 innings pitched this season.  It’s probably just me, but Chavez always has this uncomfortable look on his face that makes me uneasy about what his next pitch will be.  Despite his bad outings, which he’s had a few, Chavez has been one of the bright spots in the bullpen.  It seems he regularly drops a stinker of a game every four or five outings; consistency is going to be the name of the game if he is to be trusted regularly down the stretch.  He had struggles in May and June, but as of late seems to be back on the right track.  There is talk of putting him in the starting rotation if Sanchez is relegated to the bullpen due to an innings limit on his starts.

Joe Biagini:

26 year old rookie Biagini has been much-used this season. After being lights out in April and May, Biagini has been a problem in the bullpen in June and it seems that every second outing lately sees him in trouble. This has led to him not being called on by Gibbons, who seemingly loses faith in his relievers fairly quickly. He will need to get back to his early season form and start locating his pitches better, or he will find himself relegated to the end of the bench in pressure situations; batters have had him figured out in the past couple of months.

Jason Grilli:

The acquisition of veteran Grilli has proven to be successful, and he’s quickly become a fan favorite. The setup man for the Jays, Grilli brings much flair and passion to his outings, and lately he has been very effective in the eighth inning of close games. Grilli still has lots left in the tank and could be a very important piece for Toronto in the playoff stretch. He seems to have settled in nicely over his past 11 outings, only surrendering three runs; all of which have been home runs. The Blue Jays will be depending on him in the next couple of months, and here’s hoping that he can keep it up.

Bo Schultz:

Career minor leaguer Bo Schultz has been up and down in the majors over the past 2 seasons with the Jays. Schultz has had up and down outings, but as of late, has been pretty effective with his innings. He has not surrendered a run since June 30, and the Jays seem to only call upon him in non-pressure situations. He doesn’t have the confidence of his skipper, who makes puzzling moves at times when making the call to the bullpen, but many fans believe that Schultz should be given more of a chance in middle relief. He must make the most of his limited outings if he is to be trusted on a more regular basis.

If the Jays are to have any success in the post-season, the bullpen really needs to turn it around. The problems will not go away with this club, since the offense is so reliant on the long ball, and when they’re not getting the big hits, close games need to be held by the relievers. Off-season and in-season moves to beef up the pen have so far proven futile. Luckily the starters for Toronto have been amazing thus far, tied in all of baseball with Washington for quality starts and second for ERA in the AL with 3.68.  The Jays would find themselves further down in the standings if it wasn’t for their excellent starting pitching. With all the recent talk of moving the young guys into the bullpen, it is hard to figure out why they are letting their starting staff go so deep into ball games, especially when there is a big lead behind them; it just goes to show the lack of trust by the managers for the relief staff.

On a quick note, the buzz around moving Aaron Sanchez into the bullpen is very odd. It is understandable since Sanchez is young that they would like to save his arm, but there has been no proof that limiting innings prevents injuries.  Why does this talk even exist at all at this point? What is the motive of the front office to announce this, then say that it may not even happen at all? Are they trying to motivate Sanchez? The bullpen?  It’s just puzzling… If they are to bring up another starter, or promote Chavez into the rotation, then talking about it in advance does nothing for the general morale of the club, or for Sanchez’s own confidence.  If they are going to bring Hutchison up from AAA, then they should have him in the bullpen as a long reliever already.  Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins have experience in the league with the Indians, but they are obviously unsure as to the future of the Blue Jays pitching.  They need to solve this very soon or they are creating a big problem down the stretch, and into the playoffs.

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