Entering the 2021 season, the Toronto Blue Jays pitching staff was one of the biggest areas of concern on the roster, albeit more worry was being directed towards the starting rotation rather than the bullpen if one was to ask the Jays fanbase.
While the rotation is considered a work in progress behind the likes of Hyun-Jin Ryu and Steven Matz, it is the Blue Jays bullpen that has been impressive early this season, even with the multitude of injuries that have befallen the pitching corps.
The first domino to fall was Kirby Yates, the prize bullpen free agent signing from this off-season, who will be sidelined the entire year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Following Yates would be top prospect Nate Pearson and starter Tom Hatch, with pitchers Tyler Chatwood, Jordan Romano, Julien Merryweather, and Ross Stripling quickly following suit, with T.J. Zeuch being the latest pitcher to end up on the IL. While Chatwood has since returned to the roster, Romano appears almost ready to return and could be activated as early as today for the series against the Tampa Bay Rays, while Merryweather and Pearson are still a week to two weeks away from being deemed ready to return to the Blue Jays roster.
Chatwood, Romano, and Merryweather were pitching well before being placed on the IL, leaving many fans to be concerned about how the Blue Jays would proceed without their top relievers moving forward, but so far the remaining relief pitchers and the call-up replacements have been performing well early this season.
Prior to yesterday’s game, the Blue Jays had the fifth-best team ERA in the MLB at 3.14, with quite a few relievers being the main reason for the low statistic.
Rafael Dolis leads the team in appearances (10) and currently sports a 4.00 ERA with 11 strikeouts and four earned runs over 9.0 innings of work. Following Dolis is southpaw Tim Mayza and right-hander David Phelps, both of whom have been throwing well this season with the lefty sporting a clean 0.00 ERA with seven strikeouts while Phelps has an impressive 1.23 ERA over 7.1 innings with eight strikeouts. Mayza is the feel-good story for the Blue Jays this season, as he pitched well in Spring Training after missing last season due to Tommy John surgery and earned a spot on the Opening Day roster.
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Fellow southpaw Ryan Borucki is also performing well early this season, pitching to a 2.70 ERA with a 0.90 WHIP and seven strikeouts through 6.2 innings. Lastly, Trent Thornton has been great in whatever role the Jays throw at him, whether it be the long man or making the spot start when needed, as he currently sports a 1.86 ERA over 9.2 innings of work.
With the injuries to the Blue Jays pitching staff, the organization had to call upon the likes of Anthony Castro and Joel Payamps, with both players pitching well with the absence of some of the Blue Jays regulars. Castro and Payamps were both picked up from other teams when designated for assignment this past off-season.
Payamps has appeared in more games than Castro (with both pitchers riding the options bus between the taxi squad and major league roster), pitching in five games to the tune of a 1.08 ERA with five strikeouts over 8.1 innings. Right-hander Anthony Castro has also pitched well in his 5.0 innings, having yet to allow an earned run while striking out four batters.
While I am not going to go through every pitcher’s ERA and stats (as there are two or three pitchers who have not performed well), the moral of the story is this: the Blue Jays bullpen has for the most part been fantastic to begin the season and is a big part of the Jays early season wins and keeping the games close when the bats are silent.
I can honestly say that the Blue Jays pitching corps as a whole had me a bit worried to begin the season, and while the rotation could use one or two more established arms, the bullpen seems to be swimming along quite well and performing well as a group.
Considering that the organization’s depth has been tested early given the number of pitchers the team has had to use due to the various injuries, and if the regular arms like Romano and Merryweather can return sooner rather later, the Toronto Blue Jays could have a deadly group of relief pitchers that could play a huge part in not only helping the team win games but also get the organization back into playing postseason baseball.