Blue Jays shuffle ‘pen as Cecil builds strength

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Miguel Castro delivers in the ninth inning against the New York Yankees. (Kathy Willens/AP)

NEW YORK – John Gibbons didn’t directly anoint Miguel Castro the new Toronto Blue Jays closer, but the 20-year-old rookie will essentially be taking over the role while Brett Cecil takes a step back to regain his top form.

The shuffle was revealed Thursday afternoon by the manager in the wake of Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to the New York Yankees in which Aaron Loup and Cecil couldn’t hold a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning.

Castro has been electrifying since spring training started and has looked strong during appearances in the Blue Jays’ first two games of the season. While it’s been easy to see him growing into the closer’s role, few would have imagined it would happen this fast.

"Limited time, but he looks pretty good thus far," said Gibbons, adding later, "if it turns out he’s the best guy to do it, this is who we are."

Nothing, however, is set in stone at this point, as the Blue Jays try to figure out how to best piece together roles for in their bullpen. Intriguingly, Gibbons said he may very well go to his closer again in situations outside the ninth if the game is hanging in the balance, the way it was Wednesday.

With limited weapons at his disposal right now, picking his spots will be crucial.

"Sometimes you hold on to somebody and you never get to use them," said Gibbons. "Ideally late in the game you don’t like to have to do matchup type things, (the preference is to say) this is your inning go get ‘em. We’re still trying to figure some things out."

Cecil is a key part of that.

He missed a couple of weeks in the spring with shoulder soreness and has yet to regain his past form. On Wednesday he only hit 87 mph, and minus his dominant curve, that made it difficult for him.

"He’s not sharp," said Gibbons. "I told him he could come in the seventh, eighth inning and if it ends up stacking up that he’s the guy in the ninth then so be it. We’re going to try to get him a little sharper."

Cecil admitted Wednesday night there are times he feels two weeks behind, but Gibbons said the team wasn’t worried about the drop in velocity, feeling that will come back over time.

And if he looks strong in the days and weeks to come, could he reclaim the ninth inning job?

"Just go out there and pitch and we’ll see what everybody else is doing," replied Gibbons. "It all comes down to what helps the team. We don’t have Mariano Rivera sitting out there."

They don’t, but the hope is Castro can develop into the force Yankees reliever Dellin Betances was last season.

"Two overpowering guys, and (Castro) is a strike-thrower," says Gibbons. "We’re hoping that’s what he becomes."

Castro’s promotion also elevates fellow 20-year-old Roberto Osuna into a role as a high-leverage right-hander. He escaped the eighth inning, one out jam Wednesday by striking out Alex Rodriguez and getting Stephen Drew to fly out in his big-league debut, and earned more rope.

"We’re going to have to use him," said Gibbons.

Loup remains in the mix to be used in a wide variety of situations, while the Blue Jays still need to test out Colt Hynes, as well. In the interim, caution will be needed with the club’s key kids.

"The thing about pitching in a big-league bullpen, when you’re good, you get used a lot," said Gibbons. "That’s why I think it’s a short life for a lot of guys. We’ve got to be conscious of that. I’m the guy that’s got to go visit them when surgery’s finished. Some fans don’t, but I do."

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