It seemed oddly natural that after a lacklustre September the Toronto Blue Jays’ bullpen did the heavy lifting in the American League Wild Card game on Tuesday night at the Rogers Centre.
Arriving just in time, Toronto’s relievers combined to throw four hitless innings with Brett Cecil‘s seventh-inning walk the only runner allowed. In the process, Cecil, Joe Biagini, Jason Grilli, Roberto Osuna, and Francisco Liriano stood shoulder-to-shoulder as the five-man team the Blue Jays will lean on against the Texas Rangers and potentially beyond.
The Blue Jays got a scare in the 10th inning when their 21-year-old closer was removed from the game following an out. Osuna pitched a whopping 74.0 innings in the regular season, and despite his age and a Tommy John scar already decorating his throwing elbow, there’s been a curiously low level of discussion regarding his workload.
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Following the game it was reported that Osuna was dealing with shoulder tightness, but he said there was no worry and that he would be ready in time for the ALDS in Texas.
On Wednesday, manager John Gibbons told Brendan Kennedy of The Toronto Star that Osuna was “feeling a little better”, but did not take a hard line on whether or not the young closer would be available at the back end of the bullpen.
“All indications are that it’s not a big deal,” Gibbons told Kennedy. “But it’s late in the season, too. He’s thrown a lot, so you’ve got to be extra careful with him.”
This could be a situation of “avoid at all costs, but…”. If Osuna is fully unable to pitch on Thursday night, Jason Grilli does have experience in the role with the Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates recently.
After an ugly close to his regular season, Grilli kept the trust of Gibbons and was still called upon in a big moment on Tuesday. He worked a clean eighth inning with one strikeout, and if there’s any player on the Blue Jays roster that can funnel a playoff atmosphere into one last drop of gas in the tank, it’s Grilli.
The Rule 5 pick has been the story of the season in Toronto’s bullpen, and Gibbons might trust the right-hander even more than you think. Biagini has not only thrived in the spotlight recently, he seems to be completely unaware that a spotlight is on him. One significant value with Biagini is that he can give the Blue Jays multiple innings if needed, so between he and Francisco Liriano, Toronto can afford to have a quick trigger with their starting pitchers should they struggle.
Despite his stronger play lately, Cecil continues to be used very situationally. His walk in the Wild Card did not help, of course, nor did the makeup of Baltimore’s lineup, but the left-hander’s 55 total appearances in 2016 have been chopped up into just 37.0 innings. With Liriano not yet being used as a strict lefty specialist, this limited role may continue for Cecil. Of all the Blue Jays bullpen arms, Gibbons’ placement of Cecil in each game may be the most important.
The left-handed starter is the wild card of this group, and could be used anywhere from the fourth inning to the ninth. He’s unlikely to reenter the rotation unless injuries or poor performances strike, but a maxed-out Liriano could be Gibbons’ secret weapon.