Blue Jays’ Roberto Osuna primed for important season

Feb 16, 2017; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Roberto Osuna (54) throws a bullpen at Cecil P. Englebert Recreation Complex. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 16, 2017; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Roberto Osuna (54) throws a bullpen at Cecil P. Englebert Recreation Complex. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Roberto Osuna has been a force in the ninth inning his first two seasons, but this year could solidify his status as a premiere closer in the MLB.

Fans should have a lot to be excited about when you remember that Toronto Blue Jays’ closer Roberto Osuna just turned 22 in February. Many baseball players don’t hit their prime until their mid-20s.

Two years ago, Osuna burst onto the scene with another reliever: Miguel Castro. Castro started the year as Toronto’s closer but it didn’t last long. After a good start, he struggled in the position, giving up at least one earned run in four out of his last five starts in April, blowing two saves in the process.

The two also both broke the same record in a matter of two days. On April 6, Castro became the youngest pitcher to appear for the Blue Jays at 20 years, 103 days old but Osuna broke it two days later at 20 years, 60 days old.

Castro was eventually traded to the Colorado Rockies in the Troy Tulowitzki deal. Osuna stepped in and proved he was good enough to be the team’s closer in June. He hasn’t looked back since then, regardless of how high the stakes. Remember his five-out close against the Texas Rangers during the 2015 ALDS?

Osuna has been one of the top closers in the league for the past two years, but another great season this year could solidify him in the minds of opposing teams, analysts and others, as a premiere closer.

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The thing is that relievers can be so tricky, so unpredictable. They can be All-Stars one season and Triple-A pitchers the next (Steve Delabar, anyone?). Three dominant seasons in a row to start Osuna’s career would go a long way to prove he’s here to stay, not to mention help pave a path towards a pay raise in coming seasons.

It’s not fair to completely compare his first two seasons, since Osuna didn’t get his first save in 2015 until June 22nd. But aside from the jump in saves, his first two campaigns were quite similar. Osuna’s WAR also rose from 1.7 in 2015 to 2.0 in 2016.

Fans had a bit of a freakout earlier this month when Osuna was hit hard pitching for Mexico at the World Baseball Classic. In a game against Italy, Osuna was given a 9-5 lead in the ninth inning. He faced five batters and gave up three doubles in a row, walked another, while a fifth reached on an error. When all was said and done, Osuna had given up five runs, four of them earned on three hits and was given the loss after teammate Oliver Perez gave up the final pair of runs that Osuna was still responsible for.

But not to worry. Like Spring Training, the WBC can’t be counted on as an indicator of how Osuna’s season is going to go. He has been nothing if not dependable, even when the Blue Jays bullpen has been a bit chaotic at times over the last couple of seasons, specifically 2015.

Osuna looked strong at the beginning of Spring Training and his other game at the WBC, this time in a win against Venezuela. He looked good, striking out one batter in a save situation. It is an important year for Osuna, but he has handled the pressure well, pitching two important years for a club that has come one round shy of the World Series in back-to-back years — and Osuna has been right in the middle of that, pitching key situations and a no-brainer for manager John Gibbons whenever he’s needed.

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And although relievers can be tricky, I don’t see any reason why Osuna won’t have another strong season back-ending games for the Blue Jays in 2017.