Waiver wire pickups. Japanese league veterans. Returnees from injury layoffs. Minor-league free agent signings.
The Toronto Blue Jays' bullpen is a varied collection of pitchers that has managed to reliably deliver all season long. The relief crew is a big reason why the team is in the heart of the American League playoff mix.
"I didn't know, to be honest, that they were going to be this good," Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said Wednesday.
Starters who moved to the bullpen this year embraced new roles for the 60-game season. And when closer Ken Giles went down with a forearm strain six weeks ago, the bullpen adjusted on the fly and got results.
Anthony Bass, an off-season waiver claim from Seattle, has been effective as a replacement closer. Rafael Dolis, who spent the last four years in Japan, has also closed on occasion and been a strong setup man.
A.J. Cole, signed to a minor-league deal last fall with a spring training invite, has been dependable. Rookies Thomas Hatch and Julian Merryweather have looked like veterans.
"It's like almost every pitcher in the bullpen is pitching good," Dolis said. "It's unbelievable."
Longtime Japanese league hurler Shun Yamaguchi has delivered length when needed. Two other former starters, left-handers Anthony Kay and Ryan Borucki, have also been effective.
"That was the key, the starters going into the bullpen and making the adjustment pretty quick," Montoyo said. "They've done a great job of that."
Jordan Romano of Markham, Ont., was a force before going down with a finger injury. Jacob Waguespack, Sean Reid-Foley, Wilmer Font and others have also chipped in.
The bullpen has been consistently tested with pressure-packed, high-leverage situations all season. Entering Wednesday night's game against the New York Yankees, the Blue Jays led the major leagues with 21 one-run games (with a record of 12-9).
A 2-1 victory over New York on Tuesday night left Toronto with a 24-18 mark on the season, good for second place in the East Division standings and the fifth seed in the eight-team AL playoff picture.
The Blue Jays have had 50 per cent of their games decided by one run, the highest rate in big-league history.
"It has been amazing how these guys have done such a great job in high leverage (situations) in different innings," Montoyo said.
Kay, Cole, Dolis, Reid-Foley, Hatch and Romano all have earned-run averages under 2.50. The team's 12 saves have been spread around, with Bass leading the way with five.
Toronto's bullpen could soon get even stronger. Montoyo said rookie Nate Pearson (elbow) continues to make progress and will likely move into a relief role when he comes back.
"If he can do what we think he can do, what the other guys are doing, coming in for two innings and throwing gas, if he comes out of the bullpen throwing 97 or 98, that's a pretty good option," Montoyo said.
Giles, meanwhile, will likely pitch earlier in games when he returns instead of his usual ninth-inning role — at least to start. Montoyo said he'll likely use him in high-leverage situations in the sixth or seventh innings and see how things go.
Giles converted 23 of 24 save opportunities for Toronto last season and posted a 1.87 ERA.
Also Wednesday, the Blue Jays placed first baseman Rowdy Tellez on the 10-day injured list due to a right knee strain. He was hurt while chasing a pop-up in foul territory a night earlier.
Outfielder Billy McKinney was recalled from the club's alternate training site and was active on Wednesday night.
This article by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2020.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press