Blue Jays’ Floyd continues strong relief work with back-to-back outings

Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Gavin Floyd delivers a pitch. (Frank Gunn/CP)

SAN FRANCISCO – A small milestone in Gavin Floyd’s ongoing conversion from starter to reliever came in his most recent appearance for the Toronto Blue Jays, when he delivered a clean eighth inning while pitching on back-to-back days for the first time.

All at once he gave his team a boost by bridging the gap from starter to closer, a trouble spot all year, while also successfully testing himself physically.

“I felt good (Monday), so that was good,” Floyd said after a 3-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants. “It’s training your body to get into that short sample, one to two innings, and get used to that. It takes time for that to happen.”

Given the issues the Blue Jays have already endured in the bullpen, manager John Gibbons isn’t in position to patiently wait out the process. Floyd’s appearance in the eighth inning Monday is part of a wider juggling of roles in the bullpen with Drew Storen still unsteady and the also struggling Brett Cecil away until Friday on a paternity leave.

Floyd has earned the additional responsibility.

The 33-year-old right-hander, beaten out for a rotation spot by Aaron Sanchez, is showing the potential to be as effective as a reliever as his electric-armed teammate was last year, with a 1.88 earned-run average in 14.1 innings over 12 games.

He’s struck out 16 while only walking three, one intentionally, and allowed just seven hits, but is still adjusting to bullpen life. In high leverage situations – spots in the game that can dramatically impact a team’s win probability – opponents are 4-for-15 against him with a home run (by Nomar Mazara in the eighth inning of a 2-1 loss to Texas on May 2) and .886 OPS, compared to a .231 and .399 OPS in medium and low leverage situations.

There’s some learning curve to be expected, and the package figures to play out better as Floyd becomes more experienced.

“He’s able to get strikeouts, he’s got a good arm,” said Gibbons. “We’ve just got to make sure we keep him good and rested because he’s had some arm issues in the past. He’s been dominating against lefties, even though he’s throwing right-handed, with that breaking ball. He’s been outstanding for us.”

Left-handed hitters are just 2-for-21, including the Mazara homer, with a walk against Floyd, which is why he’s a candidate to face top opposition lefties while Cecil gets sorted. Against the Giants he handled Brandon Belt, who flew out to centre, during his inning of work.

As for his approach to relieving, Floyd isn’t trying to reinvent himself.

“I’ve learned over the years, either as a starter or in the bullpen, as fresh as that experience is, that pitching is pitching,” he said. “I know there’s a value to the last couple of innings, and especially transitioning from a starter to the bullpen, (but) you’ve just to treat it like, make your pitches. You’ve got to simplify things.”

Floyd is finding ways to do that, focusing on his routine and prep work to warm up quick and stay fresh. Four of his appearances have come on one day of rest, one with two and another four on three days, and combined with times he’s warmed but not pitched, he’s had to quickly get comfortable with the unpredictability of the job.

“Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down,” said Floyd. “The other day I got up three times, just trying to figure out, ‘Alright, you’re warm, so stop throwing.’ I’m learning along the way.”

The Blue Jays very much need him to be a quick study.