ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – A 24-pitch outing in a simulated game setting left Roberto Osuna confident about his impending return from a neck spasm to the Toronto Blue Jays, even if he wasn’t completely satisfied with the way he threw the ball Saturday afternoon.
"I couldn’t locate my fastball the way I wanted to," he said afterwards, "but I’m really happy because I didn’t feel any pain, I didn’t feel any tightness any more. It comes with time, hopefully I can feel better about pitching by Tuesday. I was down for (seven) days, I didn’t face any hitters until today. I’m going to throw on flat ground tomorrow and Monday and get ready for Tuesday."
Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker was happier with the closer’s work against Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who batted from both sides of the plate and singled once, and Ryan Goins. The 22-year-old right-hander is eligible to come off the disabled list Tuesday ahead of the home opener and barring a surprise, he’ll be all systems go.
"It was very encouraging," said Walker.
The Blue Jays were closely watching Osuna, whose velocity had been down in the week before he was placed on the DL, for his freedom of movement to make sure he wasn’t compensating physically for any lingering tightness. Particular emphasis was placed on his fastball, "and the ease to which he was throwing it and felt like he was finishing his pitches," said Walker.
"That’s critical for any pitcher and he certainly looked good doing it," said Walker. "He located his pitches very well, the action on his breaking pitches was good, too, and his changeup arm-speed was excellent."
Osuna has seen limited action since returning from the World Baseball Classic, where he made two appearances for Mexico. He said he suffered the neck spasm after his return and that’s led to a stop-and-start leadup to the season.
"I don’t think pitching in the World Baseball Classic had anything to do with what happened," he said. "It was my bed in Florida in spring training, I don’t think it was something before or after the Classic. We couldn’t fix it before the season. That’s all."
Manager John Gibbons said he’ll use Osuna like any other reliever out of the gate, even in back-to-back games if needed. The right-hander expects to be crisper with the adrenaline boost he gets pitching in real games.
"You know me – I’m a patient guy but (a simulated game) doesn’t mean anything so it doesn’t make me give the 100 per cent. So it’s kind of weird for me," said Osuna. "Coming to Toronto, home opener, it’s going to be different and all that matters is that I feel good. Hopefully I can keep feeling this way and do my best."
ROSTER SHUFFLE: The toll of 7.2 bullpen innings in Friday night’s 10-8 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays prompted the Blue Jays to bring up sinker-baller Casey Lawrence from triple-A Buffalo and option fellow right-hander Dominic Leone.
Lawrence was due to pitch in Buffalo’s opener Saturday after making strong progress in 2016 with his sinker and impressing again during spring training. He provides the Blue Jays with some length in relief over the next couple of days until Roberto Osuna is expected to be activated Tuesday.
The 29-year-old learned of his promotion late Friday and made his first two phone calls to his parents on their cellphones, both going unanswered.
"Normally phone calls to the house phone are bad news type of phone calls that late at night so I try to stay away from that," said Lawrence. "But that’s what I resorted to, it took two tries and they finally answered."
Leone pitched well Friday in relief of Francisco Liriano, allowing a run over 2.2 innings of work but became a victim of circumstance in the demotion.
"When someone gets knocked out early and you know you’re going to use the bullpen, some guy down there who has options is going, ‘Oh, shoot.’ It’s just a given, you know? Because you’ve got to protect yourself the next day, maybe a couple of days," said John Gibbons. "He didn’t know for sure it was going to be him, but he took it like a pro, he gets it. We really liked him in spring training, he’s going to be a big part of this for us before it’s all said and done."