Tao of Stieb: Osuna’s early struggles particularly frustrating

Blue Jays voice Dan Shulman discusses things going from bad to worse for Blue Jays, as it now looks like something's wrong with closer Roberto Osuna.

Within the space of one series, Blue Jays fans went from elation and relief and maybe even a bit of optimism to being plunged back into despair.

Tuesday’s wild and unbelievable win has now been overshadowed by a crushing loss in the opener of Thursday’s doubleheader, and a painful loss in the nightcap that leaves the Blue Jays 10 games under .500.

It’s hard to even make much sense of the season at this point, given how far from expectations it’s gone. One is left to pick away at the entrails to attempt to square up what’s unfolding.

Some observations on the players who have kept hope alive, and those whose performances have contributed to the unexpected plunge to the bottom…

Joe Biagini

The Jays’ resident misfit has pitched in more games (12) than anyone this year, and has seemingly been bestowed the mantle of Gibby’s Most Trusted Reliever. Entering the Cardinals series, Biagini carried a very nice 0.69 ERA before being victimized by some bad calls and what should have been a third strike that was mishandled by his catcher (more on that dude later) before giving up a two-run homer.

Still, Biagini’s newly scuffed ERA now sits at 2.40, and he has struck out 10 versus three walks in 15 innings. He’s also thrown strikes and commanded all his pitches down in the zone well thus far, as exemplified by his 60 per cent ground ball rate.

The question remains as to whether earning the trust of the manager is a wholly good thing, given the accompanying workload. As much as one can be a proponent for 100-inning relievers, you’d hope to get there by having multi-inning outings as opposed to pitching on two nights out of three. Getting up and getting into the game is as much a part of the workload as the pitches that are fastidiously counted and catalogued.

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Joe Smith

The other Above Average Joe, Smith’s 14:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio stands out as one of the high notes of the season thus far. With a delivery that is too low to call it “sidearm” and too high to call it “submarine,” Smith has stood out as one of the more astute additions to the team.

As with Biagini, looking at Thursday’s box score does him few favours. But with the early season struggles of the current closer and Biagini perhaps being more suited to a multi-inning “bullpen ace” role, the Blue Jays should consider using Smith to finish off games in the short term.

Roberto Osuna

Replacing Osuna as closer? Madness, you say? Since his disaster outing in the World Baseball Classic, and a series of setbacks that were attributed to all manner of pedestrian impediments – really, a wonky mattress? – Osuna has yet to appear in command of his pitches, which have neither the gusto nor the movement that they did a year ago.

For Osuna to be successful in the near term, he’ll either need to learn to pitch with a fastball that sits around 94 m.p.h., or he’ll need to be given the opportunity to work himself into form. This is particularly frustrating considering that spring training was especially long this year to accommodate the WBC, and Osuna is yet another Blue Jay who seems to have only ramped up once the regular season began.

This isn’t necessarily a call for Osuna to be put on the disabled list or demoted to determine if there is a better form that he could reach this season. But as much as it feels unlikely, he should probably spend some time in a setup or low-leverage role until he can work himself back into the appropriate shape.

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Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Backup catchers are backup catchers for a reason, and few teams in history can point to the performance of their backup catcher as the catalyst to success, or the reason for their failure.

But Saltalamacchia has been so ineffective at the plate that it challenges even the most patient of fans, even this early in the season.

It may be the era of the Three True Outcomes, but with 16 strikeouts versus one walk and one base hit, Saltalamacchia’s ugly whiff rate is an incredibly dubious achievement, even in this small sample size. Moreover, his offence was supposed to be his calling card.

The 31-year-old is believed to be on his way out as a result.

Steve Pearce

Remember this guy? He of the -0.6 WAR, the OPS+ of 8, or 92 per cent below the average hitter? He’s been harder to spot in the lineup over the past week, which deprives fans of his perpetually exasperated grimace after bad outcomes in big spots.

Compared to Saltalamacchia, Pearce’s performance thus far might be the biggest disappointment among new players.

Pearce had three hits in his debut as a Blue Jay, but has managed just five in the ensuing 14 games. For a player whose acquisition was heralded as a smart value play with upside, he has yet demonstrate an ability that should keep him in the lineup at all, and has fallen behind Ezequiel Carrera and Justin Smoak on the depth charts at both first base and left field.

Given the success Ryan Goins has had in his interim role as a starter, Pearce will need to do a lot more to get off the bench, and rise above the level of 25th man on the roster.

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