When Tim Mayza left the mound in a heap of pain in September of 2019, we didn’t know if he’d ever return to the Blue Jays. These days he’s performing so well it’s pretty easy to forget he was ever hurt.
Pitchers experience elbow injuries all the time in the big leagues, but it was the violent nature of Mayza’s injury that left me wondering if he’d ever be able to make it back to the highest level. It was a scene that made you sick to your stomach, and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the then-27 year old had just blown out his elbow.
When he joined the Blue Jays during Spring Training this year after a 19 month absence, it felt like the type of situation that could turn into a nice story, and hopefully he could serve as some solid depth to stash away in Triple-A. When he won a job back in March with a dominant performance during Grapefruit League action, it was clear that he meant business and the Blue Jays were buying it. They even let Francisco Liriano leave in favour of starting with Mayza on the big league roster, and that decision has really paid off.
After a two-inning save against the Tigers on Sunday, Mayza has a 3.64 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP across 50 appearances in 2021, covering 42.0 innings. He’s struck out 43 batters across that time, held them to a .212 batting average, and has become one of the most reliable options in Charlie Montoyo’s bullpen. During a season when disaster has all too often struck the relief group, Mayza’s stability has been very welcome.
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As he’s in his first year of arbitration eligibility, Mayza is making just $600,000 this year and will still be under contract in Toronto for at least three more seasons. For a team that will be looking for stability as they build their bullpen for 2022 and beyond, the 29 year old could be an important fixture as a set-up man along with closer Jordan Romano. I’ve long expected Ryan Borucki to play the role of late-inning left-hander for the Blue Jays bullpen, but Mayza is clearly that guy at the moment.
Back in 2019, there were questions about whether the Blue Jays may have relied too heavily on Mayza, which could have led to additional stress on his arm that contributed to his injury. It’s hard to say if that’s actually the case, but he had made 68 appearances. Back then he more of a situational lefty in the days before the 3-out minimum, so it was very common to see him warming up in the bullpen. With that in mind, I’m sure the Blue Jays will be monitoring his workload over their last 33 games, even if he’s proven that he’s fully healthy and capable of pitching important innings.
With Trey Mancini making an inspiring comeback from Stage 3 colon cancer this year for the Orioles, I doubt that Mayza is going to win the Comeback Player of the Year award. That said, we can still celebrate a return that once looked questionable at best. Fortunately Mayza has turned his comeback story with the Blue Jays into a best case scenario.