Tallet earns spot in Blue Jays' bullpen
Ryan, Parrish, League among contenders for three openings
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The makeup of the Blue Jays' bullpen remains one of the only murky areas within the projected Opening Day roster. As the spring winds down, though, Toronto is inching closer to deciding which seven relievers will head north with the club.
On Wednesday, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons narrowed down the race for the few vacant spots by one, declaring left-hander Brian Tallet a lock to break camp as a member of Toronto's relief corps. Gibbons comments came after Tallet spun two shutout innings during a 4-3 victory over the Red Sox at City of Palms Park.
"He's not going anywhere," Gibbons said. "Oh, yeah. He's here. He's not going anywhere. He's earned it."
Besides Tallet, Gibbons has also indicated this spring that he plans on having right-hander Jason Frasor as a part of the bullpen this season. With right-hander Jeremy Accardo and lefty Scott Downs shoo-ins for relief jobs, that leaves less than two weeks for a handful of candidates to compete for three open spots.
One of those vacancies could belong to closer B.J. Ryan, who is coming back from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery on his left elbow. Ryan is attempting to be ready by Opening Day, which will be roughly 11 months removed from the operation he had on May 10. That's no small feat for any pitcher -- let alone one set to make $10 million this season.
Ryan's pending return could influence some other bullpen decisions this spring. Even if Ryan is in the fold during the season's first month, Gibbons has said that Toronto will not use him on consecutive days in April. That would open up save chances for Accardo, who saved 30 games in Ryan's absence last year, and push Downs into an eighth-inning role on occasion.
That's one reason Gibbons is taking a serious look at left-hander John Parrish.
"The way things are stacking up right now," Gibbons said, "depending on what happens with B.J. -- even with him or without him -- say Accardo's the closer, now you're looking at Downsie in that eighth inning possibly. So you've got to have [another lefty].
"[Parrish] has got a lot of experience."
Against Boston on Wednesday, the 30-year-old Parrish turned in two shutout innings, walking one. He's fashioned a 3.60 ERA this spring and has worked on tweaking his delivery with the hope of improving his command. Last season, Parrish posted a 5.71 ERA in 53 games between stints with the Mariners and Orioles.
Tallet's objective this spring was to hopefully improve his statistics against left-handed batters, who hit .247 with a .349 on-base percentage against the lefty last season. Straying from the norm, Tallet was tougher on righties, limiting them to a .194 average and a .289 on-base percentage.
This spring, Tallet has been working on improving his slider and has worked on adding a curveball to his pitch arsenal. Last year, the 30-year-old Tallet, who is out of options, posted a 3.47 ERA in 53 games for Toronto.
"Tallet's showing signs of getting some lefties out," Gibbons said. "We talked to Tally when we first got down here about, 'Let's experiment with the breaking ball, tighten it up, and maybe mix in some curveballs,' because he's always dominated right-handers.
"He's had trouble against left-handers. If he can get where he's getting those lefties out, his value would go through the roof."
Gibbons also noted that even if Ryan does begin the season on the Opening Day roster, the manager has no issues having four left-handers in his bullpen. One reason is due to the fact that the American League has so many tough left-handed hitters -- not to mention Toronto being void of a left-handed starter in the rotation.
Among right-handed relievers, the Blue Jays have Brandon League, Randy Wells, Brian Wolfe and Armando Benitez in the mix for jobs. League's velocity and pitch movement have been much-improved over a year ago, and his stock rose when Casey Janssen -- Toronto's primary setup man last year -- was sidelined with a torn labrum earlier this spring.
Short official word from the Jays, League would seem to be a lock for a bullpen spot. The status of Benitez -- signed to a Minor League contract on March 11 -- is currently shaky, considering he's barred from participating in Grapefruit League games until he obtains a proper work visa.
Gibbons noted that the Jays are also taking a good look at Wells, who was acquired from the Cubs in December's Rule 5 Draft. If Wells doesn't make the team, Toronto has to offer him back to the Cubs for $25,000 -- half the cost of selecting him in the Draft. Wells, 25, turned in one shutout inning on Wednesday, giving him six scoreless frames over seven outings this spring.
"We're looking at Wells," Gibbons said. "If he doesn't make the team, he goes back. You've got to figure [the Cubs] are definitely going to want him back. Do you keep him to pitch that inning-eating role? But losing Janssen, that guy can also become a very key guy to get certain guys out.
"Some things have opened up with Janssen going down."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.