Blue Jays hope Cecil can stabilize ‘pen as closer

Brett Cecil, pictured with catcher Dioner Navarro earlier this month, will assume closing duties for the Blue Jays. He replaces the struggling Miguel Castro. (Nathan Denette/CP)

BOSTON – Brett Cecil is back in the closer’s role for the Toronto Blue Jays, looking to help a shaken bullpen lock down late leads while at the same time supporting his struggling teammates.

Aaron Loup and Roberto Osuna will take over as the primary options for the seventh and eighth innings as manager John Gibbons abandoned the team’s reliever-by-matchup plan for a more pre-determined situational approach.

Phenom righty Miguel Castro, who’s allowed runs in four of his past five outings and the game-winning hit in losses to Tampa on Saturday and Boston on Monday, will be used in lower leverage situations while he regains his footing.

Cecil, who’s logged just five mediocre innings heading into Tuesday’s contest, is looking forward to seeing more regular work, and on turning the page to the Blue Jays’ recent late-inning woes.

"That’s one of the things I learned from closing in college, you’ve got to have a short memory if you’re pitching in the ‘pen, especially in the big-leagues, because if you don’t it’s just going to carry over to the next day," he said. "You don’t want that at all. I haven’t had the best stretch of games, but I’m not dwelling on it, I look forward to the next time to go out there and be better."

The recent instability isn’t surprising given the youth in the bullpen, and Gibbons acknowledged that the Blue Jays have discussed shifting Aaron Sanchez back to a relief role. There’s one school of thought that the team would be better off making the bullpen a strength with Sanchez, rather than being good but not great in both the bullpen and the rotation.

For now, the team is not there yet, Gibbons saying that "we’ll run with (the new alignment) and see how it goes."

Cecil was slated for the closer’s role coming out of spring training but the Blue Jays shifted to Castro after the left-hander, who missed time in camp with shoulder soreness, struggled in a loss to the New York Yankees and said afterwards his arm strength was behind.

Castro became the de facto ninth-inning guy although Gibbons used his key relievers in different high-leverage situations, leading to uncertainty among who would pitch when among the group. While strategically it makes sense, from a practical perspective given the human factor it doesn’t.

"For certain teams it works, for us it obviously hasn’t, so something needed to be changed," said Cecil. "Roll with it for a few games and hopefully it gets everybody in a role and a little bit more organized. We’ll see how it goes, hopefully it goes a lot better than what it has been, it’s been tough for the young guys down there."

There’s concern for Castro in particular, given both his age and his lack of English. Gibbons said several Blue Jays have rallied around the 20-year-old right-hander to help him through the rough period, Cecil among them.

"I don’t like people telling me it’s all right, because it’s not all right, I’m not going to go hug or anything like that, but after (Monday) night’s game I went up to him in the locker-room, gave him a pat on the shoulder, and I said, ‘You all right man, you all right?’" said Cecil. "He kind of looked at me, kind of put his head back down, and I grabbed his chin and said, ‘Hey, head up. Keep your head up.’ He understood what I was saying. …

"He’s got unbelievable stuff, for a young guy he doesn’t see that, all he sees is results and I was the same way when I was younger. Now, if I have a bad game, the game’s over, it rolls off my back, I’ve got to be ready to go out the next day. For him, I’m sure he’s still dwelling about his last couple of outings. That’s a learning process that comes with time. He’s going to be good, for sure."

Gibbons said Castro’s struggles were to be expected.

"He’s not polished off yet, he’s so inexperienced, and to be fair to the kid, early on he was big for us," he argued. "So back him off, build him up and get him back in there. Nobody goes through this game without getting hit around a little bit. To think a 20-year-old kid won’t, that just doesn’t happen. …

"Big-league baseball is tough, that’s why you tip your hat and admire the guys that last in this game for a long, long time because it is so tough. There are growing pains along the way as a young kid, whether it’s physically polishing your game, or dealing with the mental ups and downs."

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