Blue Jays have plenty of questions to answer in bullpen

Blue Jays centre fielder Randal Grichuk talks about being "super-excited" when he heard they'd signed Hyun-Jin Ryu, and talks about why it was so challenging to face him live at Spring Training.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Rafael Dolis checked in at Toronto Blue Jays camp Wednesday with his visa issues now sorted, his arrival offering a reminder of how unsorted the club’s bullpen is at the moment.

Ken Giles still has the ninth inning locked down as the closer, but how exactly manager Charlie Montoyo will get the ball to him is undetermined.

Dolis, who pitched to a 2.98 ERA, 0.872 WHIP and 19 saves in 57.1 innings over 58 games with Japan’s Hanshin Tigers last year and signed a $1-million, one-year deal with a 2021 option, will be part of that late game mix, as will fellow newcomer Anthony Bass, a waiver claim from the Seattle Mariners.

Righty A.J. Cole, signed to a minor-league deal, will also get some consideration in leverage spots if he makes the team.

Given the three-batter minimum rule taking effect this year, playing matchups will be a little more complicated, so Montoyo is looking to ideally define some roles.

“I’d love to have the power arms at the end,” he said. “Anthony Bass has done it, Giles is going to bed at the end. A.J. Cole will be competing for a job and if he makes the team, he’ll be at the end, too, because he’s got a good arm also and then of course you have Sammy (Gaviglio) and the other guys fighting for the other spots earlier in the game.”

If he doesn’t end up in the rotation, Shun Yamaguchi will be another option in the bullpen while Montoyo described Wilmer Font as someone who can go one or two innings earlier in the game.

Canadian right-hander Jordan Romano remains intriguing and could force the issue if he’s back throwing in the mid to high 90s the way he was before an injury sidelined him last season.

“I’m hoping he comes out like he did the one time in Boston (June 21, when he struck out five of the eight batters he faced before giving up a walkoff homer to Christian Vazquez). That was electric,” said Montoyo. “After that he got hurt and when he came back he wasn’t the same. Right now in his bullpens he has looked really good and he’s been throwing as hard as he did that one time in Boston. That’s good news for us.”

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PURPOSEFUL PRACTICE

Better controlling opposition baserunners was a point of emphasis for the Blue Jays last year and something they’re emphasizing this year, too.

“Whatever you see us do, it’s because we’re going to use it during the games,” said Montoyo. “We’re not just going to do stuff just to do it. If you see us picking to third, it’s because a lot of teams go on contact, so we want to keep those runners close, that’s the reason we’re doing it.

“We’re not trying to reinvent the game, that’s what’s going to help us. Throw people out at the plate. You know, and then the picks at second base and stuff, just to keep runners close. We’re going to be aggressive with that and same with the catching.

“I told our catchers be aggressive, throw to the bases, keep the guys close and you know, good example last year, Reese McGuire threw a ball to centre field, and I went to the mound, I said, ‘Man that’s fine. Just stay aggressive, let everybody know we’re going to keep guys close and you better stay close to the bag or we’re going to throw you out.’”

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.

CAREFUL PITCHES

The Blue Jays had their first day of live batting practice Wednesday, a session in which staff ace Hyun-Jin Ryu is always very careful.

“One thing I’m very concerned about when I face my teammates is making sure I don’t hit them,” Ryu said through interpreter Byran Lee. “That was something I was thinking about.”

To that end, he was tentative with his cutter, which twice was whacked for hits. He was unconcerned by that, saying his progression this spring is “very similar,” to previous springs in “the way I feel and the program I’m currently using.”

The Blue Jays have yet to announce when he’ll make his Grapefruit League debut.

“I’m not really too concerned about the number of starts I make during spring training,” said Ryu. “But I do like to raise up the pitch count to about 80-90 before the regular season starts. I think that will be the target goal for this year, as well.”


QUOTABLE

“As of right now, I’m not anticipating using the opener I think we have enough pitching that we shouldn’t have to. I’m not going to say never ever. That things works also but as of right now, we got our rotation set. We shouldn’t be using the opener as of right now.”

– Montoyo, on whether he expects to use an opener.

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