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.
Here’s a bit of insight into how a few of our boys are progressing with rehab:
Brandon Morrow – He threw 25 pitches during a side session on Tuesday and is scheduled to throw again on Friday. Morrow has been on the DL since May 28 because of soreness in his right forearm. At first, the Jays thought Morrow would only require the minimum 15 days off but it now looks like he won’t be able to rejoin the team until sometime in August (big surprise). The Jays want Morrow, 28, to make at least 3 rehab starts and there is still no timetable of when he’ll make his first of the three. After his session of Friday, we could hear more. Stay tuned.
Sergio Santos – He has been making appearances in single-A but has not been able to pitch on back-to-back days – something the Jays say is a must before he rejoins the team. Arguably the biggest offseason acquisition two years ago, Santos has only pitched in 11 games for the Jays and has lost his closer role. The surgery to remove bone spurs from his right elbow appears to have been successful and Santos is optimistic that he’ll be able to return shortly after the allstar break (although this is the same Santos that said he wouldn’t have to go on the DL – twice).
Brett Lawrie – He was promoted from double-A to triple-A and played for Buffalo last night going 2-4 with a homer, 3 RBI, and a stolen base. During 3 games in double-A, Lawrie went 3 – 9 with four walks. Interestingly, the Jays had Lawrie play 2B last night in triple-A, not his usually 3B. To me, it seems unlikely that Lawrie will move to 2B unless the Jays acquire another player to play 3B. It makes more sense to have current fill-in, Maicer Izturis, play 2B. I suppose you could have Edwin Encarnacion play 3B and move Lawrie to 2B, but that leave Adam Lind at 1B with no power DH bat. Perhaps this is just a move to see what Lawrie looks like for when the Jays play interleague and lose the DH. In that case, it would make sense to get Lawrie some reps at 2B. The 23-year-old is recovering from an ankle sprain and could rejoin the team at anytime. The Jays simply want to make sure Lawrie’s timing at the plate is back and not rush him. If he has another solid offensive performance in his next triple-A game, I imagine the Jays will immediately move him to the big club and cut Munenori Kawasaki.
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.
The Blue Jays have announced they have claimed right-hander Thad Weber off waivers from the Padres and assigned him to triple-A. To make room on the 40-man roster, the team transferred right-hander Sergio Santos to the 60-day DL. Santos had/is having “clean up” elbow surgery to remove some bone spurs from his right elbow.
Weber, who was designated for assignment by the Padres last Friday, made three relief appearances allowing two runs over nine innings while striking out six and walking five. The 28-year-old began the season in triple-A posting a 3.93 ERA with 6.8 K/9, 1.0 BB/9, in six starts.
It remains to be seen if the Jays will have Weber start or throw relief in triple-A. Another depth move and not likely a high impact guy.
I thought I’d take a couple minutes and provide an injury status update.
Sergio Santos: this is becoming more and more like last season when the Blue Jays said there was no serious issues with Santos and then the next thing we knew he was getting his shoulder sliced up and he was out for the year. Santos went on the DL this year on April 14th with right triceps inflammation and was scheduled to come back immediately following his two weeks off. No surprise that hasn’t happened. He is now having “clean up” surgery on his right elbow to remove bone spurs and such and has been transferred to the 60-day DL. Not sure he’ll have any contribution again this year although the Jays are saying he could be ready to pitch within 6 weeks of the surgery since it’s considered very minor.
Josh Johnson: He worked his scheduled 3 innings yesterday in a single-A rehab game and allowed 1 run on 3 hits while striking out 5. He says he threw all of his pitches in the outing. The Jays would like him to have 2 more rehab starts without any set backs in order to build up enough arm strength to pitch at the major league level. If everything goes as planned, he’ll be back with the big club early in June. He, like Santos, was originally diagnosed with right triceps inflammation.
J.A. Happ: Happ is recovering well from the extremely scary ball to the head a couple weeks ago on May 7th. The problem that is keeping him off the mound isn’t his head at all. When Happ went down, he strained his knee. The knee is still bothering him and has kept him from throwing off a mound. The Blue Jays think that Happ could be back by the end of June, assuming he is able to start throwing within the next week or so.
Jose Reyes: Reyes has been out since April 12 after severely spraining his ankle during an awkward slide into second base on a successful steal attempt. He recently shed the walking cast and is now hitting off a tee, taking batting practice, and fielding ground balls. About the only thing Reyes isn’t doing yet is running. The Jays thought he would be out until mid-July (around the allstar break) but this is the only player who seems to be ahead of schedule. It’s possible Reyes could be back by the end of June if he keeps progressing as positively as he has been.
Dustin McGowan: I only throw McGowan into this discussion because he seems to be advancing from his never-ending injuries and the Blue Jays will have a decision to make. McGowan is out of options and will have to clear waivers unless he is given a roster spot on the big club once he finishes he rehabbing and it appears he is getting close. McGowan is currently pitching in triple-A. Anything we get out of him has to be considered a bonus at this point.
I don’t have any news on Rajai Davis and his oblique strain – this type of injury is difficult to predict a time table for return. Then again, the Jays don’t have the best track record at predictions anyway.
I thought I’d take a moment and let you know what I’ve heard on the injury front with respects to several Blue Jays:
Brandon Morrow – although not on the DL, had some back and neck spasms following his side session. Jays have bumped his start back to give him an extra two days rest and hope he’ll be ready to go Sunday vs. the Red Sox.
R.A. Dickey – although not on the DL, has had continuous neck/back issues this season. Before every start, Dickey says it feels as good as it has in a long time. Then he pitches and it flairs up again. My guess is that if everyone else was healthy and Romero was throwing well, the Jays would give Dickey a couple weeks off to heal. However, with lack of starting depth due to injuries and the fact that an MRI showed no structural damage, the Jays will let Dickey pitch threw the pain as long as he is mildly effective (which he has been).
Josh Johnson – strained right triceps. Threw on flat ground this week on Wednesday. The goal is to have him build up arm strength so he can make a minor league rehab start on May 21st. Assuming there are no set backs, the Jays expect to have him back with the big club early June.
J.A. Happ – head and knee. After escaping a vicious line drive off his head/ear this week, the injury that will keep Happ out of the line up for a while is actually his knee. When the ball struck him in the head, he tweaked his knee as he was falling. The Jays project he will miss 4 – 6 weeks and expect him back mid-late June.
Sergio Santos – right triceps strain. Is throwing in Florida at extended spring training and will be making appearances this week in minor league games. The Jays want him to show he can go back-to-back days before bringing him back, so he figures to be out at least another week. I imagine he’ll be back late May barring any set backs. He says he is still sore but it’s not nearly as bad as it was. This could be a recurring injury in my opinion.
Dustin McGowan – the always injured McGowan is recovery from his latest shoulder surgery last year. He is throwing and throwing well. The Jays will have a decision to make when they take him off the DL since he is out of options. However, I doubt with his injury history another club will take on his $1.5 million contract and would likely let him clear waivers. McGowan would likely accept a minor league assignment and be loyal to the organization that gave him a contract despite his injury record. The Jays see him as a reliever, but with all the injuries to the rotation, do they start stretching him out?
Drew Hutchison – tommy john surgery last August. He is on track to be pitching in minor league games this summer. Is doing a throwing program to build up arm strength.
Kyle Drabek – same story as Hutchison but a month ahead. He is on track for minor league games in July.
Luis Perex – same story as Hutchison but two months earlier. He is on track for minor league games in June.
Jose Reyes – severe ankle sprain. Still due back sometime in July.
As you can see, nearly all the injuries are to pitchers. And while Morrow and Dickey have avoided the DL, if they aren’t 100% they won’t pitch 100%. But we have still lost 40% of our starting rotation and another 40% is pitching but banged up. The only one not hurt is beachball Buehrle who is looking to lower his 7.02 ERA.
After a series split, let’s take 2 of 3 in Boston and head home 4-3 on the trip. Tonight will be a tough one to win – Ramon Ortiz vs. John Lester. Yikes.
I thought I’d provide an update on some of our hurting hurlers.
Josh Johnson – had an MRI to look at the sore triceps that forced him to miss a start during the Yankee series. No structure damage. Just some minor inflammation. Hopefully he won’t need any time on the DL and will make his next scheduled start. With the off day today, the Blue Jays can bump a couple guys up on regular rest and give Johnson a couple extra days if needed.
Sergio Santos – He is playing catch at 90 feet and will start throwing bullpen sessions very soon. You’ll remember he is on the DL for a triceps strain and is eligible to come off this week (but he won’t). Look for him to throw a couple bullpen sessions, get into a couple minor league games, and probably throw back-to-back games before the Jays bring him back. The Jays are saying at least a week, so let’s think he’ll be back in two weeks.
R.A. Dickey – He has experience neck and back pain for three straight outings and was scheduled to have an MRI today. Dickey doesn’t expect to miss any time on the DL but hopes the MRI will pinpoint a problem area so he can receive more effective treatment between starts to help deal with the pain. For his part, Dickey has been fairly effective in his last three outings and has managing to pitch through the tightness. Let’s hope he doesn’t require a stint on the DL.
If Johnson or Dickey should miss time……
Do the Jays pick up the pace in Ricky Romero’s comeback? They shouldn’t, but they probably will. Romero pitched a single-A game, his first minor league outing of the year after several bullpen sessions where he worked on new mechanics, and did very well. While we have to understand it was a game vs. single-A kids, Romero only allowed 1 run on 6 hits over 7 innings. He struck out 4 batters but more importantly walked ZERO. Equally as important, 15 of his outs were via the ground ball, so he must have been locating the ball extremely well. 7 innings = 21 outs. 15 via ground ball, 4 K’s….that means only 2 ball got into the air.
I think the Jays want to keep Romero in the minors for a bit and it wouldn’t surprise me if he works his way through the system (double-A, triple-A, etc). Yet, if Johnson or Dickey require a DL stint, the Jays will be tempted to rush Ricky back. I think they need to let the plan run its course (and hopefully everyone stays healthy and we don’t even have to think about it).
If everyone is healthy, when does Romero come back? Well, I doubt the Jays get through the entire year with the same 5 starters. It just doesn’t happen in the majors. But as long as all are healthy, look for the Jays to take things slow with Romero and build his confidence. I know it’s only 1 outing, but zero walks and 15 grounders is very encouraging.