ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Toronto Blue Jays have once again reshuffled their bullpen and while manager John Gibbons didn’t expressly say Roberto Osuna is his new closer, it sure sounds like the rookie right-hander is first choice for the ninth.
Brett Cecil is being backed out of the role after allowing eight runs in his last three appearances, a span that includes a nervous save, a blown save and a loss, to "see if we can get him back on track," Gibbons said Tuesday.
Osuna made a strong pitch for the job when he struck out five batters en route to a two-inning save Monday against the Tampa Bay Rays. He wasn’t available Tuesday, and when asked if he’d be the top option for the ninth on nights when he’s available, Gibbons replied: "I thought he looked pretty good (Monday) night. We might need him before (the ninth), too."
Steve Delabar is another possibility, but Gibbons said the Blue Jays were "not yet," ready to define roles. "We’ll see how it all plays out," he added.
Bullpen troubles have been an issue for the Blue Jays all season long, at times exacerbated by a starting rotation that hasn’t consistently gone deep into games.
Their issues haven’t necessarily come in the ninth inning, although Cecil did have a rough go the past week. Of the club’s 12 blown saves, two have come in the ninth, four have come in the eighth, four have some in the seventh and two have come in the sixth.
Not having Osuna in a set-up role could compound the issue.
"Sometimes it’s tough to get to the ninth inning," admitted Gibbons. "It’s not easy to pick it out sometimes."
Cecil should help on that front, offering the Blue Jays the late-game lefty they sought while he was in the closer’s role. As part of the shuffle, Bo Schultz will also be given additional responsibility, the hard-throwing right-hander impressing by allowing only two earned runs in 10.1 innings of work.
"We’re going to move him back, give him a more valuable role, see what he does," said Gibbons. "He looks good."
Osuna has allowed only eight earned runs in 34 innings of work so far this season, walking 10 while allowing just 21 hits with 40 strikeouts. The 20-year-old has been the one Blue Jays reliever to consistently control an inning while on the mound.
"He’s got the stuff to do it, he’s got the makeup to do it, too. He’s a tough kid," praised Gibbons. "He gets strikeouts and you know he’s going to throw strikes. … Shoot, he looks like a veteran out there."
He certainly did Monday during the season-high 33-pitch outing against the Rays, coming on with two on and none out in the eighth, striking out the side around a walk, before locking things down in a clean ninth for his first career save.
The jump from set-up to closer has phased many relievers, but Osuna said coming out for the ninth felt "pretty comfortable, especially when you’ve got all the support from the team, the manager who gave me the confidence (Monday) night. I’m pretty comfortable in those situations with a lot of confidence in myself, especially when you’ve got the support of all the guys behind you."
Osuna went through a bit of a rough patch in recent weeks, taking consecutive losses May 27 and 31 while being spared another by Edwin Encarnacion’s walk-off two-run homer June 9.
He’s allowed just two runs in six innings over six appearances since, neither of them of consequence.
"I’ve got better location with all my pitches, that’s part of the confidence," said Osuna. "When you want to throw the fastball down and away and you do it, that makes you feel (good) and you earn more confidence in yourself. Especially with guys like (Dioner) Navarro and (Russell) Martin, if you follow those guys it’s going to be easy to pitch."