Major reinforcements are on the way for the Toronto Blue Jays, who will welcome back multiple players off the injured list later this week — a group that could potentially include reliever Chad Green.
The 32-year-old hurler has been recovering from Tommy John surgery over the last several months and is nearing the final stages of his rehab program. Before he can return, though, he’ll first need to overcome a recent setback at triple-A Buffalo.
Green landed in the seven-day concussion protocol after being hit in the back of the head by a throw to second base during his outing on Aug. 8. Thankfully, it was only a minor injury as he received medical clearance from team doctors on Tuesday.
That was supposed to mark the right-hander’s return to game action with the Bisons. Mother Nature had other plans, though, as his fourth rehab appearance at triple-A (seventh overall) was pushed to Wednesday.
Green looked good after spending a week on the shelf, striking out three batters over 1.1 innings of work. He surrendered an unearned run on two hits.
The veteran righty, who signed a complex two-year, $8.5-million contract with Toronto last winter, has looked as advertised ever since beginning his rehab assignment almost a month ago, albeit versus minor-league hitters. Still, he has checked virtually every box thus far.
In seven appearances, Green has faced 29 batters and hasn’t surrendered an earned run across eight innings, allowing six hits while striking out 10. He also returned for a second inning of work in three of those seven games.
One of the few obstacles Green has yet to clear is pitching on consecutive days, though he was headed in that direction before having to spend seven days on baseball’s concussion IL.
Now that the 6-foot-3 reliever is healthy again, it’s only a matter of time until he meets that requirement, signalling he’s ready for major-league competition. And there’s a strong chance that occurs before the end of August.
So what should the expectations be for Green upon joining the Blue Jays’ bullpen? Can he fortify a back-end unit that already stands among the best in baseball?
It will be crucial to temper those expectations — at least out of the gate — given his age and the severity of his previous injury. But if he’s anything like his pre-surgery form, the former shutdown reliever with the New York Yankees should fit in just fine with Toronto.
Green emerged as one of the sport’s top high-leverage relief arms during his Yankees tenure, posting a 1.83 ERA with 103 strikeouts in 69 innings as part of a breakout 2017 campaign. That dominance continued over the next four seasons before elbow surgery put everything on hold in 2022.
As most Blue Jays fans likely remember, Green was an artist at creating swing-and-miss with his lethal fastball-curveball combination, ranking sixth in strikeout-to-walk rate difference (27.7%) among qualified relievers from 2017-21.
— B/R Walk-Off (@BRWalkoff) July 5, 2021
It has been nearly 24 months since we’ve seen that dominant version of Green. But based on his limited 2023 sample size, it’s fair to assume his competitive edge remains unaltered, even if he’s performing with diminished velocity post-surgery.
Green repeatedly hit 98-99 mph on the radar gun with his explosive four-seamer in the years prior to his right elbow requiring reconstruction. Once that pain set in, his heater’s average velocity dropped considerably and maxed out in the mid-90s.
As such, opponents teed off against his primary weapon, resulting in career worsts in AVG (.286), xAVG (.271), whiff rate (25.5%), strikeout rate (26.1%) and hard-hit rate (56.7%).
Despite being over a year removed from surgery, Green’s fastball velocity hasn’t ticked back up just yet, sitting in the 93-95 mph range during his rehab assignment and posting similar readings to his 2022 form.
The Blue Jays, however, believe their recovering hurler will gain a few extra miles per hour on his four-seamer as he logs more innings. That’s the same belief they have about Hyun Jin Ryu, who’s also coming off Tommy John surgery and is still working to regain his low-90s velocity.
Velocity isn’t the only defining characteristic of Green’s fastball. It also benefits from a high spin rate and his exceptional extension, which ranked in the 88th and 81st percentiles, respectively, during his last full season in 2021.
Those two key elements should allow his four-seamer to remain effective, even if its velocity doesn’t return to its original level. Plus, it also helps that he has a devastating curveball to fall back on as well.
While Green’s breaking ball — a pitch he started using in 2020 — remains fairly new, it’s become a vital piece of his arsenal over the last few seasons and helped his chase rate (30.3%) leap into the 72nd percentile in 2021, which was a career best.
For the most part, it hasn’t received the attention it deserves, despite surpassing his fastball in whiff rate by a noticeable margin each season since 2021. Its importance could become even more substantial if his four-seamer’s velocity remains in the mid-90s against big-league hitters.
What should ease the pressure, though, is that Green won’t be walking in as the Blue Jays' saviour when his rehab assignment concludes. He shouldn’t be needed in the ninth inning or even the eighth. All that will be required is to further lengthen an already loaded bullpen.
Toronto’s relief corps received a massive boost amid closer Jordan Romano’s dominating return on Tuesday, solidifying a back end that includes Jordan Hicks, Erik Swanson and Tim Mayza. Trevor Richards is also likely to rejoin that group in the coming days.
As healthy bodies return, the increasing likelihood of a roster crunch looms, especially on the pitching front. Green will require a spot on a 40-man roster running short on surefire DFA candidates. These impending returns will also force quality arms — like Bowden Francis and Jay Jackson — off the big-league squad.
On the bright side, it means the Blue Jays possess one of the deepest ‘pens in the majors — a key element in surviving an extended playoff run.