Blue Jays' skid has left top bullpen arms cold

Nick Ashbourne
The Blue Jays’ losing ways have prevented Roberto Osuna from getting work. (Frank Gunn/CP)

When a team is struggling like the Toronto Blue Jays are – there are a number of tactical concerns for a manager to contend with.

Is the batting order set the right way? Do any slumping hitters need a day off? Should the defence be shifting more? One rarely-considered issue with navigating a tough stretch is how to deploy a bullpen’s top arms.

During the Blue Jays’ poor start, manager John Gibbons has leant heavily on middle-relief arms like Ryan Tepera, Dominic Leone and Joe Smith as the team has rarely owned leads for the late-inning duo of Jason Grilli and Roberto Osuna to protect. Gibbons wants to save his high-leverage arms for spots where they can produce the most value, but at the same time he can’t let them gather dust on the shelf.

Osuna, for instance, has only seen action in two out of seven games since returning from the disabled list on April 11.

“He’s got to pitch tonight regardless of the situation,” Gibbons said prior to Wednesday night’s contest against the Boston Red Sox. “Then he’ll be fine tomorrow even though it’s a day game. He needs some work.”

The same goes from Grilli who has appeared in five games all year – the last one coming on April 14 against the Baltimore Orioles.

“Grilli’s the same way,” Gibbons said. “Grilli needs to pitch tonight too regardless.”

While being forced to use two guys who are theoretically your best relievers in a single game doesn’t seem like an unenviable predicament, it’s never a positive for a manager’s hand to be forced in any direction.

Now saving the pair of right-handers for the perfect situation has come to a head, limiting Gibbons’ flexibility on Wednesday to do things like trot Joe Biagini out for multiple innings or have Francisco Liriano run long if he’s rolling. Even so, saving his guys is not something the Blue Jays manager regrets.

“You don’t want to use those guys unless you absolutely have to,” Gibbons explained. “Because if things are going good you use them a lot anyway.”

Given the way things are going for the Blue Jays lately, it’s hard to imagine Grilli and Osuna being overused. If they’re going to turn it around, though, Gibbons will have need the pair to soak up more than their share of innings. Should that day come for the Blue Jays, perhaps the rest they’re getting early will pay off.