Blue Jays: Time to consider shaking things up in the bullpen

TORONTO, ON - JUNE 16: Matt Gage #91 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch during a MLB game against the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre on June 16, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JUNE 16: Matt Gage #91 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch during a MLB game against the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre on June 16, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /
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After yesterday’s blowout loss to the New York Yankees, the Toronto Blue Jays relief corps sits at a collective 4.28 ERA on the year and ranks 20th in the MLB. This is surely influenced by the 10 earned runs the relievers gave up in yesterday’s game alone and the Yankees squad is one of the best in the league right now. This game in particular showcased that the Jays bullpen is uniquely divided when it comes to which pitchers belong in the right scenario of either a close game compared to a blowout win or loss.

There is a group of relievers who can be trusted in high-pressure scenarios, made up of David Phelps, Adam Cimber, Tim Mayza, Yimi Garcia, and Jordan Romano to close out games. Each one of these pitchers has done well this year, with only Garcia holding an ERA above the 3.00 mark with each reliever seeing 23+ innings on the year (except for Mayza, who missed time on the IL). A circle of trust if you will.

On the other end, there are the depth relievers who are there to eat up innings and have had a mix of good and poor outings along the way, mostly bouncing between AAA and the MLB throughout the year. This group is ever-changing depending on the situation or who is on the IL, but right now, it consists of Julian Merryweather (currently on IL), Trevor Richards, and Trent Thornton, who was doing well since being called up in late May but got beaten around by the Yankees to the tune of five earned runs last night. Richards is unfortunately not replicating the strong campaign he had last year after being acquired from Milwaukee and Merryweather goes hot and cold throughout the course of this season, a different pitcher than what fans saw early last season.

Looking at the bigger picture, with the roster downsize coming Monday in regards to a max 13 pitcher rule, the Jays will have five members in the rotation and eight members in the bullpen. While the club does have five relief pitchers doing well so far this season, the remaining three roster spots are dragging the rest down, whether it be the three mentioned above or a mix of Andrew Vasquez and Jeremy Beasley when Thornton is back down in AAA.

While the club may be hard-pressed to find outside help before July comes around, as teams are still on the fence in regards to buying or selling for the playoffs, it might be time for the Blue Jays to consider shaking things up and look for different options internally.

After a blowout loss last night, the Toronto Blue Jays may want to consider some other internal options when it comes to rounding out the bullpen.

Personally speaking, I think Matt Gage was doing well at the big league level albeit with small sample size. He also throws from the left side and considering Mayza is the only southpaw currently in the bullpen with Tayler Saucedo on a rehab assignment (and also struggling this season), it might not be a bad idea to bring him back up and give him some more reps at the MLB level. He was optioned yesterday to make room for Otto Lopez, a move that was likely made in regards to the upcoming downsize on June 20th.

Right-hander Casey Lawerence also came in clutch last night after being called up to replace Jeremy Beasley as a fresh arm, limiting the damage to just two runs through four innings of work to finish out the ballgame, although he did give up a home run to Joey Gallo late in the ninth. He sits in an awkward spot considering he was starting down in AAA, and whether the Jays view him as starter depth or a potential long-man in the big league bullpen will determine his fate this season. If Ross Stripling continues to start for the rest of the year, having Lawerence as the go-to long man is an option to consider given his starting credentials.

Alternatively, the Jays could look for some fresh blood for the bullpen, with a few players sticking out in AAA.

The AAA standouts

Adrian Hernandez is one name on the radar, owning a stellar 1.72 ERA through 17 outings with Buffalo while also converting seven saves on the year. He also boasts a wicked screwball that I think would give opposing batters absolute fits in the box.

Some other names that are potential fits are Kyle Johnston, Max Castillo, and Joe Biagini, who has really started to turn in some quality outings as of late, owning a 2.16 ERA through the month of June. Nate Pearson is another name who fits in amongst this group but after starting the year on the IL due to mono, he still may be some time away from being MLB ready, as well, manager Charlie Montoyo has maintained that the right-hander has to earn his spot on the roster just like everyone else. Thomas Hatch is also one name to keep an eye on, as he did have some success out of the Blue Jays bullpen back in 2020 but it now appears the club has him being a dedicated starter moving forward.

Each player mentioned above needs to be added to the 40-man roster except for Hatch and Pearson once his IL stint is over, a potential hurdle in the way of a promotion to the big leagues for those sitting outside the roster picture.

There is the added risk that their success in AAA does not translate to the MLB level, but this would further solidify that the Blue Jays need some outside assistance once the trade deadline draws nearer. There is also the added security blanket of a few different pitchers who can traverse between both squads because they have MiLB options, so the risk can be kept in check to some degree if necessary.

Shaking things up with the Blue Jays bullpen

If I had it my way, the bullpen would be as such (in no particular order):

  1. Jordan Romano
  2. Tim Mayza
  3. David Phelps
  4. Adam Cimber
  5. Yimi Garcia
  6. Casey Lawerence/Nate Pearson
  7. Adrian Hernandez
  8. Trevor Richards/Matt Gage

The eighth spot is a bit tricky considering Richards would have to be DFA’d as he is out of options but having another left-hander in the pen alongside Mayza would be a positive in my opinion. It would be a tough call to DFA the from Rays reliever but his 6.59 ERA and struggling reps as of late are beginning to borderline on action territory.

This scenario would see Hernandez make his MLB debut while having Thornton, Beasley, and Merryweather (once healthy) waiting in the wings should the need arise. I also think that when Nate Pearson is deemed ready to go and has some more innings under his belt that he will take Lawerence’s spot in the bullpen if Pearson is throwing well, allowing the right-hander to go back down to AAA and back to starting.

This whole scenario also gets a lot more complicated if the Blue Jays trade for a starter in the next month and a half and push Ross Stripling back to the pen, which would really throw around the 6,7, and 8 spots that I listed above.

Next. Circling back to Luis Castillo and Frankie Montas. dark

A few different options if the Blue Jays want to take a different approach as the season continues on, and while there is still lots of baseball left in the campaign, switching around a few arms and maybe giving a pitcher like Adrian Hernandez or Matt Gage some opportunities at the big league level will produce some better results than other current options.