TORONTO – Just a few days ago, Ken Giles was looking forward to what the rest of the season had in store. After six weeks on the sidelines, he was finally back in action, eager to contribute to a bullpen that had done unexpectedly well without him. With the post-season approaching, there was reason to believe Giles could be a difference-maker once the games mean the most.
Instead, he’s back on the injured list with the same injury that landed him there in the first place, officially described as a right flexor strain. This time, it’s likely to keep him there for the rest of the season, setting up an uncertain first chance at free agency for the 29-year-old and leaving the Blue Jays without their closer indefinitely.
“He gave it all he had and it just didn’t work out,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said Wednesday afternoon. “That’s how he felt today. I wouldn’t think he’s coming back this year, but that’s speculating. I don’t know that for a fact, but there’s not that much time left.”
After facing the Yankees Tuesday night, Giles told the Blue Jays he didn’t feel quite right. Luke Voit homered off him, but he was otherwise effective, retiring three of the four Yankees he faced on just seven pitches. Still, the velocity that typically distinguishes him simply wasn’t there.
Last year, when Giles navigated his way through occasional elbow inflammation on his way to an exceptional season, his fastball averaged 97 m.p.h. In his return from the injured list against the Mets Friday, he averaged 94.5 m.p.h. And facing the Yankees Tuesday, he averaged just 93.3 m.p.h. Clearly, that trend was heading in the wrong direction.
An MRI taken Wednesday could reveal more specifics, but at this point, it’s clear the Blue Jays can’t rely on Giles to return. Technically speaking, he’d be eligible to pitch against the Orioles for the final two games of the season, but Montoyo didn’t sound optimistic about that possibility.
For a bullpen that’s also missing Jordan Romano, that’s a big blow (Romano has yet to throw off a mound, so he’s not close to returning either). While the Blue Jays had hoped to work Giles back into a high-leverage role before the end of the season, they’ll now have to look elsewhere with the game on the line. At this point, Rafael Dolis may be Montoyo’s most trusted late-inning arm, though Anthony Bass belongs in that discussion, too.
Either way, it’s another challenge for a Blue Jays bullpen that has surpassed expectations all season long. Beyond Dolis and Bass, Montoyo has Thomas Hatch, Ryan Borucki and A.J. Cole. While Julian Merryweather has often been used early in games, his stuff plays against any hitter, any time.
Plus, the Blue Jays have some reinforcements coming. Matt Shoemaker faced live hitters Wednesday, throwing two-plus simulated innings and building his pitch count up to 45. It’s conceivable that his next outing could happen in a big-league game.
“We’ll see how he feels after this and then we’ll go from there,” Montoyo said.
Meanwhile, in Rochester, Nate Pearson faced live hitters Wednesday afternoon, a sign that he’s nearing a return to game action. How the Blue Jays use him remains to be seen and there’s still work ahead for the right-hander, but with a fastball that can touch triple digits and a hard-breaking slider, Pearson certainly has the weapons to overpower opponents late in games.
In other words, it’s a big loss for the Blue Jays, but one they’re seemingly positioned to handle as the playoffs approach. For Giles, the impact is far greater – and a reminder that timing is everything in free agency.
If Giles had replicated last year’s numbers – a 1.87 ERA with 14.1 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.9 walks per nine innings – he would have been one of the top free agent relievers available. The three-year, $39-million deal that Will Smith obtained from the Braves a year ago would have been a reasonable point of reference.
Now, his prospects are tied to the upcoming medical tests. While a qualifying offer might have been imaginable entering the year, that possibility disappeared over the last couple months. Considering Giles has thrown more than his share of dominant innings over the course of seven big-league seasons, the timing has to be frustrating.
“It doesn’t benefit me looking too far into the future. Does it suck that it happened? Absolutely. Because I wanted to repeat what I did last year — short season or not,” Giles said on Saturday after returning to action. “But, overall, I can’t dwindle myself down to the ground because I can’t feel sorry for myself. If I go out there and compete the best I can and show that I’m healthy, I think that all the questions will be answered.”
For both Giles and the Blue Jays, these answers aren’t the ones they wanted.