Wilner on Jays: Relief job battle winding down

Brett Cecil, Jeremy Jeffress, and Dave Bush are going head-to-head-to-head for the lone reliever role available in the Toronto Blue Jays' bullpen.
March 24, 2013, 7:20 PM

FORT MYERS, Fla. – The last week of Spring Training is when things begin to get serious, and as unfair as it is, people who are on the bubble can win or lose major-league jobs based on just an appearance or two.

There seemed to be a three-man competition for one long relief job as the Blue Jays headed into their big loss against the Twins, and two of the three competitors did their causes a whole bunch of no good by getting lit up.

We knew that Brett Cecil and Jeremy Jeffress, both out of options, were battling for a roster spot, but once-and-maybe-future Blue Jay Dave Bush has forced his way into the conversation with his terrific spring so far, prompting Alex Anthopoulos to make the three-hour drive south from Dunedin to watch Bush and Jeffress pitch against the Twins.

Each of them had an outing that could be generously described as a train wreck.

Bush pitched the Blue Jays into a 3-0 hole before even recording an out, giving up back-to-back singles to Aaron Hicks and Brian Dozier before being taken deep by Joe Mauer. A four-pitch walk to Justin Morneau followed then, finally, an out.

In the second, Bush gave up another big fly, this a two-run shot by Dozier, and though he got out of the inning with a couple of fly balls after that, his line was an ugly six runs allowed on six hits with a walk and no strikeouts over just two innings of work. He threw 57 pitches to record those six outs and after the game, said that his problem – plain and simple – was command.

At this stage of his career, Bush doesn’t have the stuff to succeed if he’s not routinely pitching ahead in the count, and against the Twins, he didn’t. Both home runs came on full-count fastballs, and Bush’s heat now sits at about 86 miles an hour, which just isn’t good enough to get by elite hitters. When he pitches ahead, though, he can get people out consistently, and he did show that this spring, leaving a good impression on John Gibbons and Pete Walker, despite this outing.

Jeffress, on the other hand, absolutely has the stuff to get good hitters out no matter where he finds himself in the count, but for the third-straight outing, he didn’t manage to do it.

The mercurial righty threw a perfect third inning, getting a pop-up and a pair of groundouts while still having a bunch of two-strike pitches fouled off, but things didn’t go as well in the fourth. Jeffress threw six straight balls to start that frame and walked the first two batters he faced, then allowed two hard line singles and a three-run opposite-field double to Mauer.

In his last three outings, Jeffress has recorded all of nine outs while allowing eight earned runs on eight hits, walking six and striking out only one. Those numbers would be worse but for Alex Hinshaw coming in to clean up his bases loaded, nobody out mess without allowing a run to score back on March 16th.

Back in Dunedin, Cecil took it easy as Bush and Jeffress got knocked around, no doubt enjoying his afternoon off. Cecil has put together three strong outings in a row, allowing a run on four hits with two walks and eight strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings. The lefty’s next scheduled outing is a one-inning sortie on Tuesday afternoon.

Before the game, I spoke to Alex Anthopoulos for a wide-ranging pre-game interview that can be found in the Audio On Demand section of sportsnet590.ca, and among the things the Blue Jays’ general manager mentioned was the fact that the club’s starting rotation is set and that Ricky Romero is a part of it. There is currently no consideration being given to starting Romero on the disabled list, and that won’t change unless he gets hurt in his Tuesday afternoon start.

Anthopoulos also floated the possibility of beginning the season with eight men in the bullpen should Brett Lawrie have to start the season on the disabled list. That move would allow the Blue Jays to not have to expose either Cecil or Jeffress to waivers until a week or so into the regular season, when it’s much easier to sneak guys through.

The final week of Spring Training begins with a home date against the Phillies on Monday. Gibbons will be using all his regulars in the games on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, with very few players making the trip to Port Charlotte on Wednesday. Josh Johnson starts Monday, and is scheduled to throw six innings. Lefty John Lannan answers for the Fightin’s. Dirk Hayhurst and I will have all the action for you beginning at 1pm Eastern on sportsnet590.ca. Join us, won’t you?

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