Gaston excited about Jays' bullpen
Trio of League, Downs and Carlson performing well
ARLINGTON -- B.J. Ryan was unavailable for Sunday night's series finale against the Rangers, so manager Cito Gaston is finding out just how reliable the rest of his bullpen arms can be.For the season, Toronto's bullpen owns the best ERA in the Major Leagues at 2.95, which is the only bullpen ERA below 3.00. Toronto's bullpen ERA in its last 11 games is a stellar 1.56. Not much has changed against the Rangers. In the Blue Jays' first two games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington -- a stadium known to terrorize pitchers, as Ryan can attest to -- a trio of Toronto's middle relievers have flourished. Jesse Carlson, Brandon League and Scott Downs have provided Toronto six shutout innings of relief the last two nights. League, who lost about 10 mph of velocity prior to the 2007 season, has been perhaps the most pleasant surprise for Gaston. "A lot of nights out of the 'pen we're lefty, lefty, lefty," Gaston said. "It's nice to have a power right-hander out there, too. I've tried to show him that I have confidence in him, and lately he's given me that confidence right back." The latest example of this came Friday, when League bridged the gap between Carlson and Ryan, allowing just two baserunners in 1 2/3 innings. Although Ryan ultimately blew the game in the ninth, League and his 97-98 mph fastballs caught his manager's attention. "That kid is going to be a big part of this team when we win something," said Gaston. "We all know about the arm trouble and how he lost all his velocity last year, but he's completely back to where he was before." Since being recalled on June 21, League has allowed just three earned runs in 11 1/3 innings. He's held opponents scoreless over his last six innings. "We've been trying to get him to throw more strikes, but that, to me, is all a matter of gaining more and more confidence," Gaston said. "I like him a lot." But League's scoreless streak is trumped by Downs' 12 2/3 scoreless streak. Of course, Downs leads the Blue Jays' bullpen in plenty of categories. His 48 appearances entering Sunday are the most among Toronto pitchers this season. His 45 strikeouts are the most among Blue Jay relievers and his 1.37 ERA is the second best in the American League for a reliever. As impressive as his current scoreless streak is, it's nothing compared to his 26-inning streak earlier in the year. "I can't say enough about what he has done, before I got here and since I got here," Gaston said. "He's having a sensational year." In fact, Gaston said Downs' blown save in Seattle on July 1 was the only time this season he's seen the left-hander falter. Downs' consistency has continued in Texas. Pitching two-thirds of an inning on Friday and 2 1/3 innings on Saturday, he didn't allow a single baserunner and struck out two. But Gaston also appreciates the big heart that the 6-foot-1, 160-pound Carlson has exuded. What he lacks in size compared to his fellow left-handers Downs and Ryan -- who stand 6-2, 210 and 6-6, 260, respectively -- Carlson makes up for with grit when on the mound. And with that grit has come reliability. Carlson himself has made 47 appearances this season and his 1.80 ERA ranks sixth among American League relievers. In his last 10 appearances, he is 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA. "He's not the biggest guy, but he'll jump at you with his fastball at about 90, 91 or 92, and that's not slow," Gaston said. "He's been great. He'll be my guy in the bullpen tonight."
Shawn Shroyer is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.