Blue Jays’ Osuna getting the type of spring he’s been looking for

Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Roberto Osuna warms up at Spring Training (Frank Gunn/CP)

CLEARWATER, Fla. – They celebrated the 2008 World Series champions Philadelphia Phillies before Sunday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays, and among the stories being swapped was a cautionary tale about closers and spring training – actually, spring training in general.

Rich Dubee, manager Charlie Manuel’s pitching coach on that team, recalled that the teams closer that season, Brad Lidge, tore his right meniscus in a workout late in February.

“What I remember most is we had to leave him behind in Florida for a week … and then he was perfect for the rest of the season after he joined us,” Dubee, who coached in the Montreal Expos minor-league system for three years, told Phillies broadcaster Larry Andersen.

Indeed, Lidge was perfect: 48-for-48 in save opportunities. He saved seven of the Phillies’ 10 post-season wins, including the final inning of their World Series win over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 5.

So, good health aside, I asked Blue Jays manager John Gibbons how he knew when a closer was ready coming out of spring training. It depends, he answered. Sometimes its velocity, but in the case of Roberto Osuna, it’s not that easy.

“It’s different with him because he’s more of a command guy,” Gibbons said. “So, you take a look mostly at where he’s putting the ball.”

Osuna’s second outing of the spring was highlighted by a consistent 94-m.p.h. fastball and a change-up that pleased him. Disguising his arm speed on that pitch is on his ‘to do’ list this spring.

In all, Osuna sat down all three batters he faced, striking out Cameron Rupp on three fastballs, inducing an infield pop-up and ground out.

It’s the type of spring he’s been looking for; a return so far on an off-season investment in a new trainer and a more disciplined approach. It’s not just the disappearance of baby fat. As Gibbons noted, he’s got a bigger butt that can help deliver power.

Osuna has been quietly urged to shift the site of his off-season program from his native Mexico to the U.S. That may come in the future, but for now, he likes the decision to stay home.

Last season was an odd one for Osuna: His velocity was down, his peripherals improved, and, like Lidge in 2008, he started the season on the DL with neck spasms after a messy World Baseball Classic.

The Blue Jays almost seemed to be hiding Osuna last spring in what turned into a year of personal turmoil, too – becoming a new father and dealing with anxiety issues. His name surfaced in trade rumors, and capping it off was a loss in arbitration to the Blue Jays last month.

“I didn’t feel good at all coming into last season,” Osuna said. “I did something I probably shouldn’t have done in my training. I learned a lot with all the ups and downs … but I think the biggest thing is I learned about my body and how I need to keep it strong.”

Osuna’s done a whole lot of pitching in his first four major-league seasons. He’s also done a whole lot of living.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

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THE ENDGAME

Can’t say enough about Granderson’s presentation of the Major League Baseball Players Association’s side of the pace-of-play argument on Saturday, and I’m 100 per cent with him on the suggestion that time between innings could be cut down by running insert advertisements instead of breaking away from coverage for full-screen 15 or 30-second bits.

It’s done in automobile racing and soccer and Granderson has experience in this area having played for the New York Yankees, who were often featured on nationally-televised games with longer breaks.

If nothing else, Granderson’s statement was a carefully-placed suggestion that commissioner Rob Manfred might want to look beyond simply the players to address pace of play.

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