Season-ending injury to Cecil a ‘big loss’ for Blue Jays

Brett Cecil's year came to a crashing end on Friday when he sustained season-ending leg injury on what appeared to be a routine play, news that had the relief pitcher in tears when he was given the news.

ARLINGTON, Texas – All it took was one step to turn Brett Cecil from the Toronto Blue Jays’ top reliever to their biggest cheerleader.

The left-hander will miss the remainder of the season after tearing his left calf chasing Mike Napoli in a rundown. He felt a pop once he started pursuing Napoli, ran two more steps on fumes and recorded the out before leaving the field with assistance from Blue Jays trainer George Poulis.

“As soon as I took that first step I felt it pop,” Cecil said, comparing the feeling to getting kicked. “I don’t know how I took an extra two steps, but I was able to get there and tag him. And then just the adrenaline took over for a second and just the pain set in.”

Initially he thought it was just a cramp, but reality soon set in. It led to an emotional moment for a pitcher who closed out the season by allowing zero earned runs with 44 strikeouts in his final 37 appearances.

“I cried walking back to my locker,” Cecil said. “It was just — it just sucks.”

The injury won’t require surgery — rest should do the job — but it sidelines one of John Gibbons’ most trusted bullpen options. It’ll now be that much tougher to shut down a Rangers lineup that includes left-handed bats such as Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo and Mitch Moreland.

“It’s definitely a big loss,” Gibbons said. “He’s been so good for us — arguably the best reliever in baseball the last three months, he’s been up there with the best of them. Against Texas’ lineup, so many left-handers, he really was important to us.”

Ryan Tepera takes Cecil’s place on the ALDS roster, while Aaron Loup, who wasn’t even sure he was on the playoff roster until Tuesday, will assume the role of the Blue Jays’ top left-hander. Loup allowed a career-high six home runs while posting a 4.46 ERA in 2015, though he pitched better down the stretch and recorded two key outs Friday. Now it’ll be on him to retire the Rangers’ top lefty bats in big spots.

“The key guy will be Loupie,” Gibbons said. “He’s been a go-to guy for us the last couple of years. This year was an up and down year for him … he’s got to take on a bigger role.”

Tepera could also be used against lefties considering that he limited them to a .137 average and .568 OPS at the MLB level this year.

“The big addition is the cutter,” said Tepera, who had been working out at the club’s spring facility in Dunedin, Fla., and threw one inning in an instructional league game. “Busting lefties in with the cutter has opened up everything. It’s huge loss with Cecil, but hopefully I can come in and get lefties out.”

If he can come close to replicating those numbers, the Blue Jays will be happy. At the very least he provides some insurance for a bullpen that logged seven innings Friday.

All of which leaves Cecil on the sidelines. With no chance at pitching before spring training, all he can do is watch.

“I’ll go cheer my ass off tomorrow,” he said.

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