During the final week of the season, general manager Ross Atkins and manager Charlie Montoyo held meetings with each member of the Toronto Blue Jays to discuss how things went in 2019, listen to the player’s assessment of his performance and talk about how best to push things forward. Since those conversations aren’t available to the public, here at sportsnet.ca we decided to conduct our own exit interviews for fans to digest.
Tuesday, in the second instalment, the Blue Jays’ relievers assess their seasons. On Monday, we heard from the starters. On Wednesday, we’ll hear from the catchers, followed by the infielders on Thursday and the outfielders on Friday.
The comments from Elvis Luciano, Wilmer Font and Yennsy Diaz were made through club interpreter Hector Lebron.
3-0 | 2.91 ERA | 1.154 WHIP | 21.2 IP | 10 BB | 18 K | 0.6 WAR
“I feel pretty good about the year. Obviously, it’s had its ups and downs, which everyone has seen. But I’m thankful to be finishing healthy. With my past, that’s a blessing. Obviously, there’s room to improve — getting more consistent with my changeup, curveball, first pitch. But I’m pleased with what I’ve learned from the coaching staff here and what I feel like they’ve helped implement into games pretty quickly. With (bullpen coach Matt Buschmann) and (pitching coach Pete Walker), we talked a lot about how I want to use my pitches. So, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about my identity as a pitcher with how my stuff plays with the spin rate and how I want to approach hitters. That’s been a huge improvement and I feel more confident coming into the game. I know what I want to do. I know what my strengths are so I’m going to focus on my strengths, and then dip those into the hitter’s weakness.
“My pitch usage is different. More fastballs at the top of the zone. I’m using my changeup more, because they sat me down and said, ‘This is a really good pitch.’ I still need to use it a lot more than I do now. But just believing in that changeup, which was kind of a non-factor for me in the past.”
0-3 | 4.05 ERA | 1.500 WHIP | 20.0 IP | 10 BB | 26 K | 0.3 WAR
“I would say there’s a lot of room for improvement. There were a few outings that obviously didn’t go my way. But that’s part of the game. For me, I look at every outing as a learning experience – whether it’s good or bad. I’ll look back at all of my outings at the end of the season and see where I can improve for next year and be better.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with Matt Buschmann – we’ve been making some minor adjustments and I feel like it’s going in the right direction. It’s a few key points in my delivery that we’ve been focusing on. We don’t want to make any drastic changes or anything like that. I’m just fine tuning things that we think will be beneficial. It’s a small sample size, but I’m really excited about how it’s going. And I’m excited for next year to come around so I can try to compete for a job and help this team win.”
0-0 | 27.00 ERA | 7.500 WHIP | 0.2 IP | 4 BB | 0 K | -0.1 WAR
“I feel pretty good about my time in the minor leagues. I worked hard, stayed healthy. I got called up, pitched my first major-league outing. I wasn’t too happy with myself and how it went. But I was a little bit nervous. That’s not who I am. But it happens. I was very happy just reaching the majors – I’m very proud of myself. It’s something that all baseball players want: to make it to the big leagues. And I’m here.
“I’ve been concentrating a lot on getting stronger with my slider. It’s come a long way. Earlier this season, I didn’t have great command of it. But now it’s getting there. The command is good. I can locate it. And it’s going to get better. The key is throwing it just like my fastball, same angle, same arm slot. And then, at the end, it moves like a slider. I’m trying to make them look as similar as possible.”
0-0 | 12.79 ERA | 2.526 WHIP | 12.2 IP | 7 BB | 15 K | -0.8 WAR
“It’s been a wild ride. Sometimes you never know what’s going to happen in a season, bouncing around all over the place, trying to do something to stick around long enough and obtain as much information from each team as possible to get back on track for next year. It gives you a little bit more to work on and concentrate on going into the off-season. Physically, I’m finally back to normal. My body has felt pretty good all season long. That’s a big positive for me to take out, especially after the big knee injury and then the shoulder.
“My stuff was a little bit better than what I had been earlier in the year, in the summer. I want to build off of that feeling with being mechanically better, especially lately more like what it used to be like in 2016. Just trying to transition back to that feeling again.”
4-5 | 4.48 ERA | 1.269 WHIP | 84.1 IP | 29 BB | 95 K | 1.0 WAR
“Of all the teams I’ve played on, the Blue Jays are the team I’m most happy on because the clubhouse here, everyone is so together, everyone is so close like a family here. When you get along with your teammates, the manager, the entire coaching staff, that makes you feel comfortable and that’s what I’ve got. Being an opener helped me a lot this year because it allows me to prepare as a starting pitcher. This year, being in that role, I know when I’m going to pitch and I can get ready for games.
“Pitching as an opener, I think I opened the eyes of not only the Blue Jays but also all the teams. I really think the opener role is nothing crazy — it’s something that all the teams should use. It’s very helpful. If you can open games like that and help the entire pitching staff, that will be great. At the end of the day, I think I did my job on that and that’s what I got from this year. I feel here (in Toronto) like I’m home and hopefully, I can stay here for many years.”
4-2 | 4.61 ERA | 1.118 WHIP | 95.2 IP | 22 BB | 88 K | 0.7 WAR
“It’s been a big change for me as far as roles. I’ve been a starter my whole career, so learning to pitch out of the bullpen has been quite different. If you’re a starter, you’re going for a few innings and you’ll face guys a couple times. You have some time to feel out your pitches. If they’re not there, you don’t have to panic. Also as a starter, you’re ready every fifth day. But as a reliever, you’re ready every day. That was the biggest thing.”
2-3 | 23 SV | 1.87 ERA | 1.00 WHIP | 53.0 IP | 17 BB | 83 K | 2.4 WAR
“A great step forward compared to last year. All I wanted to do was be dependable and do my job right and enjoy it. I tried to get back to my 2017 level and I think I did that. In 2018, I showed up trying to prove everybody wrong because of those 10 lonely innings in October (of 2017, when he struggled in the playoffs). I tried so hard that it almost backfired. Even though I felt like in 2017 I did a lot to help us get to the playoffs, once we were there I didn’t have as much left. This year I got back to being at that cool level every time I took the mound. Mentally, I’ve been much stronger. The looser you are the better you pitch sometimes.
“Even though I wasn’t always 100 per cent physically and had my first ever time on the injured list, at least it wasn’t anything structural, just the joint in the elbow. The season was really positive for me even though I battled some inflammation and my stuff wasn’t as sharp as I wanted sometimes. We’re not going to the playoffs, but I’ve come to terms with that and going into the off-season I’ll get some rest (and) come back feeling 100 per cent.”
1-2 | 5 SV | 4.90 ERA | 1.665 WHIP | 60.2 IP | 40 BB | 67 K | 0.1 WAR
“I was definitely disappointed in my first half. My year didn’t start as well as I would’ve liked it to. But I’m happy about how it’s finishing. I’m finishing strong. I battled through some nagging health stuff early on. Just that whole first half, if I could just wipe that away, that’d be great.
“If you told me this off-season that I was going to end up at the Rogers Centre for the last game of the season, I’d have been like, ‘There’s no chance.’ Obviously, they gave me the opportunities that I needed, especially early on when I wasn’t successful. And after the halfway point I started taking better advantage of my opportunities. Kudos to the front office and coaching staff for sticking with me. Because they could’ve dumped me easily. It was nice to have the opportunity I’ve had here because I knew my stuff was still good early on. It just seemed like I was making that one mistake every game. Give up a home run or a double after I walked somebody, that kind of thing.
“The one thing is I really don’t like walking guys. And my walks have been pretty high. Usually, I pride myself on being able to say I don’t walk guys. But this year I can’t say that. Obviously, my strikeouts have been high, too. So, I don’t know if I want more strikeouts and more walks or less strikeouts and less walks. But either way, I’m definitely going to work on limiting the base on balls this off-season. I’ll work on that down-and-away fastball that you need in a 2-1 count or 2-0 count to get you back into a count. I’ve been throwing my off-speed a lot this second half and I’d really like to hone in on getting that fastball command back.”
1-0 | 5.35 ERA | 1.782 WHIP | 33.2 IP | 24 BB | 27 K | 0.1 WAR
“Basically, since the moment I got here to now, the most important thing I learned is how to control my pitches. The key is to hit the spots, location. That’s what I’ve been working on with Pete (Walker). So far, it’s been my best learning process. My goal is 100 per cent to be back here. I want to come back strong, I want to have a good spring training and to see what happens. But I’m ready to come back and help the team.”
1-3 | 4.91 ERA | 1.403 WHIP | 51.1 IP | 27 BB | 55 K | 0.2 WAR
“The pitch (on which he tore his ulnar-collateral ligament) was a normal two-seamer, trying to go in. I tried to get on it a little bit, tried to really throw it with some conviction and try to blow it by him. I just felt it go. I didn’t hear a pop or anything, but I just felt my elbow give out on me.
“It’s unfortunate, but it’s fortunate, I guess, to have guys who have gone through the (Tommy John) surgery in the clubhouse. In talking to them, I understand that process and the rehab is going to be long and it’s going to be tedious, but I’m confident that I’m going to be able to get through it successfully and come back strong.
“I’m more at peace knowing I did everything I could to prevent it and it’s just something I have go through. I have to work hard to get back, but I’m fully capable and fully confident that I’m going to be all right.”
3-6 | 6.16 ERA | 1.425 WHIP | 73.0 IP | 31 BB | 69 K | -0.3 WAR
“A real positive thing I can take away from the season was going to Montreal in spring training and getting that news that I’d made the team. That’s something I’ll never forget. Just being in this locker room, being around these guys. It’s been really cool. It’s something I’ll always cherish: playing in the big leagues and hopefully having a long career. I got to make my first start at Fenway (Park). That was sick. Even the first time I pitched at Fenway, I came out of the bullpen on a freezing cold night in April and got to face (Rafael) Devers and got him out on one pitch.”
“The season’s tested me mentally for sure and definitely made me a stronger person. I’ve had success coming out of the bullpen this season. I’ve always liked being a starter more than being in the bullpen. But, really, whatever way I can have success and help the team, that’s where I want to be. I’m very comfortable coming in out of the bullpen. I think it’s obviously an easier task to get three guys out rather than 18, but anything that can keep me on this team and helping this team is something I want to do.”
0-2 | 7.63 ERA | 1.696 WHIP | 15.1 IP | 9 BB | 21 K | -0.4 WAR
“This year, there were times I was pitching the best I could. There have been other months when I wasn’t pitching as well. I’m just trying to keep learning and growing for next season. For a couple of months there at triple-A, I was pitching pretty bad. Getting to the big leagues was so far off. Being able to pitch well there and finally get called up, that’s my biggest takeaway because that was my ultimate goal: getting here. Now, it’s performing at this level consistently. I’ve shown I can do it. But I need to be more consistent with it.
“I feel like my slider got a lot better this year and, transitioning to the bullpen, I feel like my fastball played up a bit more, too. It’s honestly trying to get to that feel pre oblique injury, when I had everything going. I really saw the development this year from last year with my slider and fastball, and I still feel like it’s better right now than last year. It’s just being more consistent. The velocity and the slider shape are the two big things I gained this year.”
2-1 | 3.86 ERA | 1.664 WHIP | 39.2 IP | 25 BB | 39 K | 0.4 WAR
“I took a big step forward as far as what I can do with my fastball. I spent so much time on my fastball that this year, at times, I lost my slider. That’s why I’m going out to Seattle (for an assessment at the Driveline facility), just to get that back, so I’m more consistent with that and have two, three pitches I can throw at any time in the count. Right now, it’s hit or miss on the slider. Sometimes I have it, sometimes I don’t. Any runs I gave up this year, it seems like it’s on a home run off a slider (four of the six he allowed). It’s never the heater really getting hit, it’s me hanging sliders in the zone. That’s the frustrating part of this year, but it’s definitely a step forward. I feel like if I fix that I can be very successful because I feel like I’ve thrown pretty well for the most part up here. It’s all about trying to put it together and being consistent the whole time.
“I’m mostly four-seamer now. I throw the sinker every now and then if I need a groundball. But, for the most part, it’s been let it eat at the top of the zone and then picking my spots to go down. I miss every now and then, just being too much in the zone, but for the most part, I feel like I’ve been pretty consistent at getting it up there. It’s something that’s a consistent work, but I feel like I’ve been pretty successful around the zone with my fastball compared to years past.”
4-0 | 9.82 ERA | 1.753 WHIP | 25.2 IP | 8 BB | 19 K | -0.8 WAR
“Well, if you look at the numbers, this season was pretty rough. The numbers don’t lie. But it’s just helping me grow as a person and as a player. I still think my best days are ahead. I’m just looking forward to a strong and productive off-season, working on some things, and coming back better next year. I’m out of options next year. So, I have to either be on the team or put through waivers. I’m planning on putting myself in a position to make the team. I’m planning on coming into spring training ready to impress right away. I’ll be ready to go.
“I think I have a good plan in place to get my mechanics right so I transfer energy correctly. This year I was spinning — my front foot would land and I would spin around it, rather than having all my energy going towards home plate. So, this off-season I’ll work on getting back to the old me. And I want to raise my arm slot. Right now I’m at 1:30 on a clock. I want to get back to between 12:30 and 1:00. That should help all my pitches. It’ll help with fastball spin, slider depth, change-up depth. And hopefully, my velocity will tick up a little bit, too.”
0-2 | 4.98 ERA | 1.292 WHIP | 21.2 IP | 8 BB | 14 K | 0.1 WAR
“It’s not the season I envisioned at all. It is what it is, and for that reason I have to move on and put the season behind me and know that I’m healthy now coming back for the last month. I’ll take that into the off-season and work even harder to get better. Because I ramped up for spring training, got shut down, ramped up again, got shut down, had surgery, took some time off and then ramped back up for the end of the season, I think I’ll go into the off-season and keep it going and consistently keep throwing, not take too much time off. One of the main focal points is going to be long-tossing again and building up the arm-strength again. I’ve always been a big believer in long-tossing and haven’t had the chance to do that. That helps with delivery, firing the lower half and getting the arm-strength back. I’m really going to focus on that.
“I’ll probably play around with the Rapsodo again. It’s good information and you can learn a lot from it if you use it the right way. Talking to (Buschmann) and (Walker), they’re high on it, too. So, if we have access to it, why not use it?”