Gaston rich in bullpen options
Four relievers already locked in with several on the cusp
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Cito Gaston hasn't seen much of his relievers this spring. While the Blue Jays manager has been evaluating the many pitchers vying for starting roles with the club, much of Toronto's bullpen been forced to seek innings outside the Grapefruit League.
That's meant frequent trips to the Bobby Mattick Training Center to take part in Minor League games or finding work in a handful of unofficial "B" games throughout the spring schedule. Gaston isn't too concerned, though. He already has an idea about who will make up Toronto's relief corps -- arguably the team's strongest asset entering this season.
"The guys that have been going over there and pitching," Gaston said, "are my guys that are already probably in the bullpen, probably already going to make the club."
That doesn't mean the bullpen is completely void of competition. Six of the seven roles appear to be tentatively set, with at least four pitchers in the running for the final job. Gaston has maintained since the early stages in spring that the only relievers deemed locks for the Opening Day roster, barring injury, are left-handers B.J. Ryan, Scott Downs, Jesse Carlson and Brian Tallet.
Among the right-handers, hard-throwing Brandon League and Jason Frasor seem to be the front-runners for two of the other three spots in the 'pen. The last role will likely fall to either Shawn Camp, Jeremy Accardo, Brian Wolfe or possibly Casey Janssen, if the Jays decide they prefer to use him as a long reliever rather than a starter.
"Those guys, they have to make the club," said Gaston, referring to the right-handers. "There's no given down there, except for a few guys -- the left-handers will be OK down there. Leaguer should be OK, and the other guys down there, they did a good job."
Gaston was referring to last season, when Toronto's bullpen led the Major Leagues with a 2.94 ERA. The seven relievers used most often were Ryan, Downs, Carlson, Tallet, League, Frasor and Camp. Given their success, Gaston said he is hesitant to switch up that cast, especially when the rotation is surrounded with uncertainty.
"It's hard to change that bullpen when you had the success we had last year," Gaston said. "It's going to be tough to break those guys up down there."
Janssen is a leading candidate for a role in Toronto's rotation after missing all of last season due to a right shoulder injury. In 2007, Janssen's last full tour with the Jays, he thrived as the club's primary setup man and finished with a 2.35 ERA and 24 holds in 70 appearances. He could move to the bullpen again, but the Jays seem content on utilizing Janssen as a starter.
If Janssen remains in the rotation, Gaston believes Accardo, Tallet, Frasor, Camp and League all have the ability to log more than one inning, if necessary.
Janssen slid into the eighth-inning role with the Jays in 2007 after Ryan was sidelined with a serious left elbow injury. While Ryan was out, Accardo stepped up as the main closer and finished with 30 saves that season. Last year, Accardo was limited to just 16 games due to a persistent right forearm injury and he's trying to crack Toronto's roster again this spring.
"If Accardo comes in, if he can move one of those guys, fine," Gaston said. "If he can't, he doesn't do it."
Accardo does have player options, so the Blue Jays could send him to Triple-A Las Vegas to open the season without having to first pass him through waivers.
Wolfe is another candidate for a bullpen job, but he's currently fighting a right shoulder issue. Wolfe said he felt something pop in his shoulder during a brief outing against the Rays on Tuesday. An MRI exam revealed inflammation, but no structural damage. Gaston said Wolfe will likely resume throwing in roughly a week.
Last season, Wolfe posted a 2.45 ERA for the Jays, but he was limited to just 20 games due to a right triceps injury. With the latest setback, Wolfe's chances of making the Opening Day roster took a serious hit, but he's hoping that he can recover enough in the next three weeks to still have a shot at earning a spot within the team's bullpen.
The longer Spring Training this year -- courtesy of adding the World Baseball Classic to the month's events -- does benefit the pitchers in that regard. For the Blue Jays, though, it's still been difficult to find innings for all the pitchers who are in the running for jobs, even with the prolonged schedule.
One issue has been the required innings needed for Toronto's starting pitchers. Behind ace Roy Halladay and youngsters Jesse Litsch and David Purcey, the team has at least six pitchers with a chance of grabbing a spot in the rotation. That's left few innings in Grapefruit League play for the club's relievers to work in front of Gaston.
"We have a lot of pitchers here," Gaston said. "We're getting as many innings as we can for these guys."
Bird feed: Right-hander Scott Richmond, who didn't get a chance to pitch for Team Canada before the team was eliminated from the World Baseball Classic, made his first mound appearance since returning to camp on Friday. Richmond logged 32 pitches over two innings during a Minor League game. ... Center fielder Vernon Wells (strained left hamstring) hoped to serve as a designated hitter in a Minor League game on Friday, but he was held out. Wells may make his spring debut within the next week. ... Right-hander Dustin McGowan (right shoulder) did not play catch on Friday and said he isn't sure when he'll be cleared to resume throwing. The Jays have slowed his throwing program since he complained of discomfort in his shoulder last week. ... Downs, who battled left elbow soreness earlier this spring, is scheduled to pitch in a batting-practice session on Monday.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.