Tagged: Dustin McGowan

Mid-Season Review – Part Two: The Bullpen

While not the official midway point through the season, the allstar break certainly serves as the unofficial midway point in the long, 162-game season that is major league baseball.  I thought it would be fitting to take advantage of the allstar break to prepare a report card of sorts and break down the different aspects of the Blue Jays organization.  This is part two of the series: The Bullpen.

Coming into Spring Training, it was hard to find any holes in the Blue Jays roster.  But if you were forced to point to something, it probably would’ve been the bullpen.  Casey Janssen showed great consistency since taking over the closer role in 2012, but he isn’t a prototypical closer and he was coming off shoulder surgery.  Sergio Santos was thought to challenge Janssen for the closer spot, leaving Darren Oliver and Steve Delabar as solid late inning options.  Aaron Loup was thought to make the club, but had almost zero expectations since he was entering his first full season.  Brett Cecil was a question mark to even make the 25-man roster.  Esmil Rogers was to be a mulitple inning, mid-relief guy.  Dustin McGowan, please.  He would probably just get hurt again.  Juan Perez, Neil Wagner….who are they?

One of the lone bright spots at the break is the Jays’ bullpen.  The group has posted the best bullpen ERA in the AL over the first half (2.90), the most wins in the AL (21), all while pitching the most innings of any ‘pen in the MLB (334.2).  Let’s look at each member of the group who has contributed to the surprise success.

Juan Perez (19.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1-1 record, 0.76 WHIP, 21 K’s) – Perez came out of nowhere this season.  A 34-year-old career minor leaguer and with the Jays in search of a fresh arm to eat some innings due to the rotations early season struggles, Perez earned a call up when he pitched to a 0.86 ERA over 21 innings in triple-A.  It was thought Perez would be a sort-term inning eater and head back to Buffalo when the rotation turned things around and got healthy.  After posting a 0.00 ERA in 19.2 innings with the big club, Perez doesn’t look to be going anywhere soon – especially since sending him to the minors would expose him to waivers.  With a very affordable $380,000 contract, he would surely be claimed by any contending club looking to add bullpen depth.  The emergence of Perez (along with Loup and Cecil) give the Jays flexibility to trade veteran Darren Oliver to a contender before the July 31st deadline.  With his hurky-jerky motion, he sure is fun to watch.

Dustin McGowan (11.2 IP, 1.54 ERA, 0-0 record, 0.86 WHIP, 15 K’s) – McGowan is finely healthy (touch wood) in part due to the Jamie Evans throwing program which has strengthened his ever-ailing shoulder.  It’s only 11.2 innings, but McGowan’s stuff looks as good as it ever has and his maturity and determination really shine through when he is on the mound.  If he can stay healthy – and that’s still a big if – the patience the Jays have shown with his injury-riddled start to his career might just pay off.  And if he does stay healthy, a lot more pitchers might start subscribing to the Jamie Evans velocity program.

Steve Delabar (42.0 IP, 1.71 ERA, 5-1 record, 1.26 WHIP, 58 K’s) – Delabar, a feel-good story of a teacher turned MLB allstar and arguably the man that made Jamie Evans’ velocity program famous, has been everything the Jays were hoping when they acquired him from the Mariners last season for OF Eric Thames.  He still walks too many hitters (23 so far) but doesn’t allow the long ball (1 so far) and has the strikeout ability to make up it.  More than any other reliever in the Blue Jays bullpen, when they need a big strikeout, he is the guy to go to.

Brett Cecil (46.1 IP, 1.96 ERA, 3-0 record, 0.97 WHIP, 55 K’s) – After winning 15 games as a rookie starter in a tough AL East, the next couple season weren’t too kind to Cecil.  He struggled mightily as a starter, experienced an alarming drop in velocity, and looked like he was destined for a permanent home in the minors.  Yet, Cecil – despite his struggles – still managed to get lefty batters out at a very high rate.  So it’s no surprise the Jays gave him a shot to grab a spot in the bullpen since he is out of minor league options (you’ll remember I wrote about this months ago and actually discussed it with Alex Anthopoulos).  Am I surprised with Cecil’s success this season?  Not at all.  I’ve always thought he was more suited for the ‘pen – he was a closer in college.  Am I surprised by Cecil’s command and much improved velocity?  Absolutely.  Thank you Jamie Evans (are we noticing a trend here?)

Aaron Loup (46.1 IP, 1.94 ERA, 4-3 record, 0.97 WHIP, 33 K’s) – Where did this guy come from?  Last year, Loup was a surprise call up from double-A and he has never looked back.  This year, Loup experienced his first major league camp Spring Training invite.  It’s unbelievable.  Loup has shown the ability to pitch multiple innings, strand inherited runners, dig in for a strikeout, or get a double-play grounder.  The angle he creates with his 3/4 arm slot is nasty, but it’s his ability to throw consistent strikes with his delivery that impresses most.  Loup has only walked 6 batters.  When looking to induce contact, Loup is an option right up there with Janssen.

Sergio Santos (4.1 IP, 2.08 ERA, 0-1 record, 0.92 WHIP, 6 K’s) – After missing nearly all of last season to shoulder surgery, Santos couldn’t get through 5 innings this year before requiring elbow surgery.  The hard-throwing righty is now been prescribed the Jamie Evans training program and hopes it helps cure his oft-injured arm.  The Jays are hoping Santos can regain the form that saw him strikeout 92 in just 63.1 innings for the White Sox in 2011.  2014 will be very interesting for Santos – the Jays hold club options on him for 2015, ’16, and ’17.  He’ll need to stay healthy and pitch well if he hopes to cash in on the contract structure the Jays inherited from the White Sox.  Santos is scheduled to come back to the ‘pen late July.  So the question is, who does he replace?  With how well everyone in the bullpen is throwing, don’t be surprised if Santos has an “extended” rehab assignment.

Thad Weber (13.0 IP, 2.08 ERA, 0-1 record, 1.23 WHIP, 8 K’s) – Weber was used as a fresh arm to call up when the bullpen was gassed earlier this year.  Although he pitched well, his stuff isn’t as good as the guys currently in the ‘pen and doesn’t look to have a role with the Jays beyond triple-A depth.  Yet, with a 2.37 ERA in 49.1 innings for Buffalo, he certainly provides quality depth.

Casey Janssen (29.1 IP, 2.76 ERA, 2-0 record, 0.89 WHIP 26 K’s) – With so much doubt heading into the season about Janssen’s ability to maintain his role as the team’s closer, he has certainly stuck it to his critics.  He may not throw hard, but he has pinpoint control (only 7 walks) and gets the job done – 18 of 19 in save opportunities.  While Delabar and Santos might have more traditional closer-like arms, Janssen’s ability to attack and carve up the strike zone is unmatched by any member of the bullpen.  It should be noted that the only save he blew, the Jays went on to win in extras, so the Jays have not lost a game that he has attempted to save all season.  Janssen is also on the Jamie Evans throwing program after having a slower than expected recovery from offseason shoulder surgery.  He has been pitching through what he describes as “discomfort” most of the year, but he appears to have turned a corner in the past couple weeks.  He is the leader of the ‘pen and an example to the young pitchers on the team of how location is more important than velocity.

Neil Wagner (18.1 IP, 2.95 ERA, 2-3 record, 1.15 WHIP, 15 K’s) – Wagner is a 28-year-old rookie.  He’s always had the power arm, but lacked control prior to this season.  He has a lower-grade version of McGowan’s stuff without having the previous arm issues.  As well as he’s pitched, he has minor league options and could be the odd man out of the ‘pen when Melky Cabrera comes off the DL later this week.  Definitely a plus-depth arm to stash away in triple-A.  Oh…and after going 13 for 13 in save opportunities for Buffalo, you know he’s ready to handle sticky situations.

Darren Oliver (29.0 IP, 3.10 ERA, 3-1 record, 1.21 WHIP, 23 K’s) – It’s not often a reliever throws less than a hit per inning, limits walks, has a winning record, and a 3.10 ERA yet finds himself pitching in a lesser role than the previous season.  However, with the emergence of Cecil and Loup above Oliver on the depth chart, that’s exactly what happened.  With Perez nipping at Oliver’s heals for innings also, it really wouldn’t surprise me to see Oliver be traded prior to the July 31st deadline.  There isn’t a contending team out there that wouldn’t want him on the roster.  And while it’s doubtful the Jays would get much in return for the 20-year veteran who aims to retire after this season, it would open up room in a crowded bullpen and also allow Oliver to pursue a World Series title – something he hasn’t been able to capture in his 20 years of MLB service.

Esmil Rogers – he is started the year as a reliever, moved to the rotation as a stop gap due to injuries, and now hasn’t looked back.  See Part One in the Mid-Season Review series for notes on Rogers.

Brad Lincoln (21.2 IP, 4.15 ERA, 0-1 record, 1.48 WHIP, 19 K’s) – While Lincoln’s numbers are plenty good enough for many MLB bullpens, they just aren’t good enough for this one.  The return piece in the deal that saw the Jays give up on former number 1 draft pick, Travis Snider, hasn’t lived up to his own 1st round status.  Although he has pitched modestly well, albeit inconsistently with the Jays, with the rise of other arms in the system, he continues to slide down the depth chart.

Mickey Storey, Edgar Gonzalez, Justin Germano, Jeremy Jeffress, and Dave Bush – None of these guys threw more than 8 innings, had an ERA under 7.30, a WHIP under 1.75, or won a game.  All were inning eaters during the early season melt down in the rotation when the Jays were forced to go to the ‘pen after only 2 or 3 innings routinely.  None were a factor in the bullpen’s success and none look to be a factor in the foreseeable future.

So…can the Jays bullpen keep up its torrid pace in the second half?  Probably not.  Can they maintain their status as the top group in the AL (and arguably the MLB)? Most definitely.

@IHRTBJs

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Santos eyes July return

Sergio Santos is hoping he’ll be ready to return to the Blue Jays bullpen sometime in July.  The Jays, though, will take their time with Santos since they have 8 men in the bullpen all pitching well.

Santos was place on the DL on April 14th with discomfort in his right elbow.  After unsuccessful rehab, he underwent minor surgery to have bone chips removed.  Santos was scheduled to face live hitters yesterday for the first time since his surgery.  

Santos has only played 11 games for the Jays over the past two seasons.  This year it has been the elbow; last year it was the shoulder.  Due to the injuries, Santos has now agreed to join Steve Delabar, Casey Janssen, Dustin McGown, and Brett Cecil – to name just a few – by implementing a weighted-ball program designed by Blue Jays exclusive consultant, Jamie Evans.  

While the program tends to increase velocity, it was actually designed to help avoid injury.  

If the Jays bullpen continues to pitch well, don’t expect them to hurry Santos back.  He may have some “extended rehab” if you know what I mean.

@IHRTBJs

Reyes to return tomorrow

Jose Reyes is set to rejoin the Blue Jays in time for their series finale against Tampa Bay on Wednesday afternoon.  During his rehab in both single-A and triple-A, Reyes hit .414 (12 for 29) with a double and six runs scored in 7 games.  He even swiped a couple bags.

The Jays have said the Reyes will immediately be placed into the lineup at SS and at the top of the batting order.  The Jays have also hinted that Melky Cabrera will be bumped to the 5th spot and Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion will continue to hit in the 2 and 3 holes.  While I certainly understand why the Jays would want to ensure both Bautista and Encarnacion get at bats in the first inning, I’m more of a fan of having them hit in their traditional 3 and 4 spots and having Cabrera hit #2.  This would give more a chance for RBIs and allow the Jays to run more with Reyes.  Are they really going to cut Reyes lose with Bautista and Encarnacion at the plate?  I think history shows the Jays will play for the 2-run homer.  With Cabrera in the 2 hole, it is smart to run with Reyes, provoke pitchers into wanting to use the open bag and walk Cabrera if they fall behind, and set up an even bigger inning.  “A pitcher would never pitch around Cabrera with a bag open if Bautista is behind him” you might say.  Well then Cabrera is hitting with a runner in scoring position and a double play is avoided.  If Bautista hits #2, Reyes base running talents are not used to their potential.  Period.

The biggest question is what corresponding move the Jays will make prior to tomorrow’s game.  Who is the odd man out?  Munenori Kawasaki?  Juan Perez?  Dustin McGowan?  It will be interesting to see what the Jays do tomorrow.  For my thoughts, read yesterday’s blog post on the topic (sorry, Kawasaki).

@IHRTBJs

Reyes status – who goes down?

The Blue Jays are having Jose Reyes play at least one more game in triple-A.  Whether the team doesn’t want to do anything to break up the superstitions surrounding its franchise-record-tying winning streak or Reyes just needs a few more at bats is a question.

Reyes went 2-5 with 2 singles yesterday for Buffalo.  In six games between triple-A and single-A, he is 8-22 (.364).  Reyes also stole another base yesterday, and he also scored from second on a hit up the middle.  He seems to be running and rounding the bases on the previously sprained ankle just fine.

Alex Anthopoulos has not given an exact date when Reyes will be back with the big club, but hinted that his return might not come until the team travels to Boston on Thursday for a 4-game series.  Anthopoulos said that Reyes is being evaluated day by day and could return at anytime.  But he also mentioned that he might play today in Buffalo and then a couple games in New Hampshire, the Jays double-A team, which is logistically on the route to Boston.

The bigger question than “when will Reyes be back?” is “who leaves the team when Reyes inevitably comes back?”.

While nobody knows for sure, I have a feeling I know what move the Jays are leaning towards.  I also have my own view (big surprise, eh?).

Jays take

Nobody wants to mess with the clubhouse chemistry right now and it appears Munenori Kawasaki is a big part of that.  The Jays are carrying 8 men in the bullpen while the norm is 7.  Kawasaki’s recent heroics and fan chants buy him a few more weeks with the club and the Jays make a move by trying to sneak left-handed Juan Perez through waivers and do not succeed.  Perez and his affordable $380K contract are claimed by a team looking for lefty help in its bullpen.  Kawasaki gets extremely limited playing time with the return of Reyes, plus the crowded infield of Maicer Izturis, Emilio Bonifacio, and Mark DeRosa and is sent to triple-A when Brett Lawrie returns shortly after the allstar break.  Kawasaki gets an honourable call up when the roster expands in September, barring any unforeseen injuries to middle infielders that would bring him up sooner.

My take

Even though Kawasaki is a fan favourite and has shown heroics in his brief stint with the club, there just isn’t enough room on the roster for another middle infielder.  Especially one that has minor league options and can be sent to triple-A with zero risk of being lost on a waiver claim.  Kawasaki was signed as a minor league free agent to provide major league depth should a middle infielder go down with an injury.  He has done this and done it well.  However, he will receive nearly no playing time once Reyes returns and the Jays are committed to Izturis (due to his contract) and to Bonifacio (due to his superior natural skill set) and unfortunately, Kawasaki is the odd man out.  Thoughts of sending a reliever down right before 4 games vs. the Red Sox might not be a great idea.  It would be better to get through that series and the next 4 vs. the Tigers before taking the luxury of the additional arm off the roster.  The rotation has been amazing but it won’t last forever.  With the potent offences of the Red Sox and Tigers coming up, keeping the 8-man bullpen doesn’t seem like a bad idea.  Especially when keeping Kawasaki really only buys the Jays time until Lawrie is back.  Send Kawasaki down when Reyes returns and cut the bullpen to the traditional 7 when Lawrie is healthy.  Who should go from the bullpen?  Dustin McGowan, that’s who.  He is owed $1.5 million this year and another $1.5 million next year.  Then they Jays either pick up a $4 million club option for 2015 or buy him out for $500K.  If you didn’t know McGowan and have an emotional attachment to his never-give-up attitude, you would be happy for the Jays to risk putting the hard-throwing righty through waivers – a pitcher who has had 3, count them, 3 shoulder surgeries.  A guy who nobody expects to get anything out of for the rest of his career.  Anything he does is considered a bonus.  He is the least at risk to get picked up off waivers and should be the guy to go.  He would undoubtably accept a minor league assignment since the Jays organization has been so good to him over the years.  With hard-throwing Neil Wagner essentially doing what the Jays might get from McGowan, but only better, there really isn’t a need for his arm in the ‘pen right now.  The relievers with minor league options aren’t going anywhere.  Wagner and Aaron Loup are too valuable.  If it’s between McGowan and Perez, McGowan has to go.  This isn’t personal.  It’s about putting the best team on the field and trying to win every game.

@IHRTBJs

What a difference a week makes

The Blue Jays were 9 games under .500 when they embarked on the most recent road trip.  They have since won 5 straight and now sit only 5.5 games out of the second wildcard spot.  What a difference a week makes.

Anchored by solid starting pitching and an offence that continues to hit homers, the Jays finally look like the team everybody thought they would be after all the offseason moves.  Now home vs. the Rockies, where I suspect the Jays should take 2 of 3.  Then the real test: 3 vs. the Orioles, 3 vs. the Rays, and 4 vs. the Red Sox.  A disappointing couple weeks could put an end to any playoff hopes.  A successful couple weeks would mean the Jays are back in the thick of a postseason race prior to the allstar game.

With Jose Reyes scheduled to come back later this month (he went 2-2 with a single, triple, 2 walks and 2 stolen bases in his rehab debut this weekend), the offence should only get better.  Also, Brandon Morrow should be back by the end of June.  When healthy, we all know what he is capable of doing.

So the question becomes this: who gets sent down?  With everyone playing at a high level, it’s a good problem to have.  Currently the Jays are carrying 8 men in the bullpen.  I imagine that there will be a move at some point to drop this back down to the traditional 7.  Perhaps when Reyes returns?  But who goes?  My guess is either Juan Perez or Dustin McGowan.  I think Perez does more for the team, but the Jays have a soft spot for McGowan and probably don’t want to risk losing him on waivers if they send him down after being so patient with him during 3 shoulder surgeries.  Unfortunately, Perez might be the odd man out.  It sounds awful to be sending down a guy that is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 10 innings, allowed only 5 hits, recorded 10 K’s, has held opponents to a .152 average, and produced a 0.80 WHIP.  But Perez is a lefty.  And the Jays already have three other lefties in the ‘pen (talk about luxury) in Aaron Loup, Darren Oliver, and Brett Cecil.  But Perez is also out of options and would have to clear waivers.  At $380,000, how could somebody not claim him?  Neil Wagner has options and could be sent down, but the Jays have been keen on using him in clutch situations.  It’s pretty hard to send down a guy who throws 96-98 mph and consistent strikes.

To me, if the Jays are going to really make a run and go for it, McGowan is the odd man out.  I know…I know…  We all want to see him do well.  He continues to fight through adversity and never gives up.  But he also has a contract which pays him $1.5 million this season and another $1.5 million next year.  There is a club option for $4 million in 2015 with a $500,000 buyout.  If anyone has a shot at clearing waivers, it’s a guy who has had three shoulder surgeries and is making that kind of money.  And if he cleared waivers, you have to think he would accept a minor league assignment in triple-A since the Jays organization has been so good to him all these years.

It also makes sense from this standpoint: when Morrow comes back, Esmil Rogers probably gets pumped out of the rotation and back to the ‘pen.  Replacing one righty with another makes sense.  And I’d rather have Rogers than McGowan at this point.

Tough decisions for sure.  It will be interesting to see how GM Alex Anthopoulos handles the next couple weeks.  There are a lot of “good problems” right now with respects to the Jays roster.

@IHRTBJs

Blue Jays hire Jamie Evans = Smart Move

Jamie Evans has helped numerous pitchers over the years with his Velocity Program, including Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil, Casey Janssen, and recently Dustin McGowan.  It has now resulted in a job with the Blue Jays.  Evans was hired earlier this week as an exclusive consultant to the Jays’ organization.  Under the agreement, Evans may still continue to development amateur players but can only work with professional players within the Jays’ organization.

Despite the stigma of using weighted balls and potential injuries they could cause a pitchers arm, Evans’ weighted-ball program has seen a large increase in popularity over the past year.  The workout routine involves the use of weighted balls to strengthen muscles around the shoulder and is now thought to actually decrease the risk of injury while also improving velocity. As part of the process, pitchers use various holds and also go through their throwing motion without releasing the ball.  The idea for the program originally came from a study involving tennis players. Those athletes rarely sustain shoulder injuries despite going through a similar motion during their serves as a pitcher.  Evidence suggested that a reason for the lack of injuries among tennis players was that they did not release the racket during their serve. That spurred the use of a weighted ball that would not be released during a pitcher’s motion.

Delabar brought a lot of attention to the program two years ago when he credited it with helping him return from a fractured right elbow. Toronto’s right-handed reliever was out of the game and working as a substitute teacher when he began using the program with student athletes he was helping coach.  The results that followed speak for themselves.  During his first stint in baseball, Delabar was throwing 89-92 mph, but now he was consistently hitting 94-97.  Delabar has turned into one of the most reliable Jays out of the ‘pen as evidenced by his 1.85 ERA in 34 innings this season.  Brett Cecil, almost out of the majors at the end of last season, used the program and has noticed a dramatic increase in velocity (was 85-88 mph, now 91-94 mph) and sits with a 1.53 ERA in 35.1 innings pitched.

Evans has tailored his program over the years to each athlete’s individual needs.  As well as the offseason workout program, there is another that can be used during in season that serves as more of a method for maintenance and recovery.

Janssen, for example, is using a modified version of the routine that is not quite as intense as some of his counterparts’.  That is mainly because Janssen did not start the program until the start of the season after offseason shoulder surgery. Janssen said the work would continue but that the intensity would really pick end when the year comes to an end.

Whether this sort of throwing program turns out to be a fad or something that becomes the standard around baseball, the Jays are smart by locking Evans down.  I imagine he’ll work with pitchers at all levels of the organization to help increase shoulder strength and limit injuries.

@IHRTBJs

 

Blue Jays Designate Crawford

In case you’re wondering what move was made to get Dustin McGowan on the 40-man roster when he completed his rehab and joined the big league club, the Blue Jays designated left-hander Evan Crawford for assignment.

Crawford, a 26-year-old reliever, had not appeared with Toronto this season. His only big league action came in 2012, when he tossed eight innings and posted a 6.75 ERA. Crawford had struggled at single-A and double-A this season, logging a 5.86 ERA in 27.2 innings and posting 4.2 BB/9 against 8.8 K/9.

When the Jays brought Crawford up last season for two cups a coffee, I wasn’t thrilled about him.  He lacked the ability to get outs and as a lefty, you have to – at a minimum – be able to get out lefty hitters.  It’s just something he couldn’t do.

No big loss here.

Crawford has cleared waivers and been outrighted to double-A.

@IHRTBJs