The Blue Jays have received a fantastic performance from their bullpen so far in 2022, but they’ll need to find a way to lessen the load on their relievers sooner than later.
Based on the circumstances they’ll face over the next few weeks, there are both helpful and detrimental things coming their way. First, the roster will be trimmed from 28 players down to 26 once the calendar flips to May, and that likely means they’ll have two less relievers at their disposal. The league agreed to let teams work with a 28-man roster because of the late start and the shortened Spring Training schedule, hoping it would help pitching staff ease into the season as far as workloads go.
So far the Blue Jays have really received a mixed bag from their starting rotation. Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman have been fantastic through their first few outings, but I can’t say the same for the rest of the rotation. Jose Berrios has turned things around after his disastrous Opening Day start against the Rangers, but the team will still look for him to pitch like a leader of the staff. Yusei Kikuchi has had some ups and downs so far, and Hyun Jin Ryu is already on the IL after a rough start to the campaign.
Despite that, the Blue Jays are in a tie for the top of the AL East standings along with the New York Yankees, each holding a 10-6 record through the first 10% of the schedule. It’s been an encouraging start in many ways for the Blue Jays, and I mostly say that because they’ve managed find success despite a rocky start from their rotation, and also with key injuries to Teoscar Hernandez and Danny Jansen. A huge part of that success is due to the performance of the bullpen.
They finally showed a crack on Sunday when Jordan Romano’s record save streak came to an end with a 8-7 loss to the Astros. The Canadian fireballer had locked down a record 31 consecutive saves dating back to last season, and has been lights out for the Blue Jays to start the year. That said, they’ve had to lean very heavily on him in the early going, and the pace he’s been working at won’t be sustainable all season long. Thus far Romano pitched in nine out of the first 16 games, throwing 8.1 innings in the process. When you consider how tightly packed the Blue Jays’ schedule has been to start the year, it’s been a pretty big workload.
Romano isn’t the only reliever seeing plenty of action in the early going, and that’s out of necessity because of the many short starts the Jays have had from their rotation. Tim Mayza and Yimi Garcia have already appeared in eight games each, and Adam Cimber, David Phelps, Julian Merryweather, and Trevor Richards have all been in seven games. Thankfully it’s been a formula that’s mostly worked so far, but it’s a heavy workload. It actually reminds me a fair bit of how the 2021 season started for the Blue Jays, and it didn’t take long for the bullpen to fall apart after a solid start.
The Blue Jays will hope to avoid that this time around, and the first place they’ll need to look is to their veteran starting staff. I’m confident that Berrios will be a solid contributor this year despite how things have gone, and I think Yusei Kikuchi will settle in as well. It’s hard to say what they’ll receive from Ryu as he tries to find the form that made him one of the best pitchers in the American League in 2020, but thankfully Ross Stripling is a capable veteran arm that can step in for the time being.
The other thing the Jays may want to consider is running with a three-man bench in favour of keeping an extra reliever once the rosters shrink to 26. It could help them a bit with what could be a roster crunch with their reliever group, and the extra support may be needed anyway.
As I said, the good news is that the bullpen has performed at an elite level so far this season, and they have a lot of depth to work with these days. Hopefully the last week of April and the beginning of a new month will bring longer outings from their starters, and even better, a few games where the offence takes care of all of the pressure to pick up a victory. However, at some point Charlie Montoyo and the coaching staff are going to have to find a little more balance in order to keep their talented bullpen healthy. It’s a long season, and while I won’t criticize their usage at all so far given the circumstances, it’s something to be wary of going forward.