Accardo must find his splitter
Struggling reliever has not used fine out pitch enough
TORONTO -- Jeremy Accardo's biggest weapon has gone missing. One of the reasons the Blue Jays annointed Accardo their interim closer was due to the effectiveness of his split-finger fastball.
It's a pitch that Accardo utilized during a dominating 2007 season, but one that has been used only sparingly in the early goings this year. Accardo has already been uncharacteristically roughed up a few times this season -- partly a result of the right-hander turning to his splitter less frequently than in the past.
"Not as much as he needs to," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, when asked how often Accardo has used the splitter this year. "That's his bread and butter against those lefties. That's one reason why he dominated so much last year. He's got an overpowering fastball, but the split also sets that up. They work hand-in-hand."
Without a reliable splitter available, Accardo has endured a forgettable week for the Jays. On Wednesday, he blew his first save of the season, allowing four runs in the bottom of the ninth against Oakland in a 6-3 loss. One night earlier, Accardo took a loss after surrending a ninth-inning triple that scored the game's deciding run for the A's.
The subpar start has been a drastic contrast to Accardo's performances last season, when he finished with a 2.14 ERA and 30 saves in 64 games for the Jays. Accardo also led Toronto pitchers a year ago by holding opposing batters to a .206 average and a .280 on-base percentage.
Accardo's splitter was especially effective at the onset of last season, helping the pitcher open the year with 21 2/3 consecutive shutout innings. Through 4 1/3 innings this year, Accardo has notched three saves in four tries, but he's yielded five runs on 10 hits, giving him a bloated 10.38 ERA.
Accardo assumed the closer's role last year after left-hander B.J. Ryan was shelved in April with a serious elbow injury. Ryan underwent season-ending Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on May 10 and is still making his way back from the disabled list.
Ryan isn't due to rejoin Toronto's bullpen until later this month -- possibly as soon as the club's next homestand -- so the Jays are hoping Accardo can regain his form on the mound. Even when Ryan returns, Toronto will be hesitant to use him on consecutive days until at least May, meaning Accardo will still see save opportunities.
When Accardo's at his best, his splitter is a powerful tool against left-handed batters. Last season, he limited lefties to a .161 average, giving up just three extra-base hits to left-handers all season. Through Accardo's five outings this year, lefties have hit .273 against the pitcher.
"He's got to use that split against those lefties," Gibbons said. "You get ahead [in the count] and then you can bury it and get you some strikeouts. ... It wouldn't hurt him to throw it behind in the count, either, so they don't narrow in on that fastball. That's what made him so good last year."
Against right-handers, Accardo's go-to pitch has been his slider, which he started to work extensively on toward the end of last season, when his splitter wasn't as effective. So far this year, though, righties have hit .455 against Accardo, whose slider has been an inconsistent option, too.
"His big thing against righties has always been his slider," Gibbons said. "That kind of comes and goes with him. That's why right-handers have given him trouble, because a lot of times he's been limited to one pitch out there."
That's certainly the case when Accardo can't turn to his splitter on a consistent basis. It's an issue Accardo battled throughout the spring, when he allowed four runs on 10 hits in eight innings, and a problem he's aiming to correct right now.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.