Monday, April 6, 2009

The Jays Bullpen

As it stacks up now, Manager Cito Gaston is bringing back relatively the exact same bullpen as a year ago. Heading North to the big club are:

RHP Brandon League
RHP Jason Frasor
LHP Scott Downs
LHP Jesse Carlson
RHP Shawn Camp
LHP Brian Tallet
LHP B.J. Ryan

One noticeable omission is RHP Jeremy Accardo. In 2007 he saved 30 games with the Jays, but had his season come to an abrupt end in early May of '08 due to a forearm injury. Because Toronto can send him to AAA without having Accardo clear waivers, he simply got caught up in a numbers game (not to mention a poor showing in the spring.) Accardo is slated to be the closer in AAA Las Vegas.

A couple of concerns and needs for the Jays bullpen are:

The health of closer B.J. Ryan
Brandon League vital to success
The presence of a solid long reliever

Much has been said about B.J. Ryan in the past few years, specifically his loss in velocity this spring. There shouldn't be that much concern. Ryan is a closer who had nothing to play for in the spring. Wins don't matter in the Grapefruit League, so there wasn't an adrenaline rush for the big lefty. Ryan entered some games in the middle of the contest as well, which he's not accustomed do doing. He'll settle in just in time when the games count. Whether he returns to 2006 form might be a bit of a stretch...

Which is why Brandon League is vital to the ball club's success this season. Like Ryan, League lost 8-10 MPH velocity on his pitches two seasons ago after overdeveloping his lat muscle in the offseason. League, however, has persevered and has regained his form. League is destined to be the Jays closer of the future (and not so distant present.) If Ryan falters, LHP Scott Downs will be called upon to close down games, at least initially. League presents the best option because of the heat and because he's a RHP. If 2006 all-star Ryan is fine, then Toronto should explore League in the 8th inning along with Downs. Rolling out lefties in the final two innings is asking for trouble (though it was successful in '08)

If the rotation is in flux throughout the campaign, Toronto will need to utilize an effective long inning reliever. To ensure the bullpen isn't taxed night in and night out, a great long reliever will go very far in the Jays success in '09. Toronto had the fewest innings pitched by relievers last year (425), but that number will surely spike. Having a guy like Brian Tallet shut down those middle innings would be huge. Tallet has done so before, and had decent success. He has brilliant stretches of play, then falters for games at a time. More consistency from Tallet is key. Another option is journeyman Shawn Camp. Save for one awful outing in May vs. the A.L. Champion Tampa Bay Rays, Camp had a decent showing in his first season with the club. He could be trusted to eat up more innings this year. Carlson, back for his first full season in the bigs is another quality option.

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