Ryan seeking to solve spring slowdown
Closer exploring all avenues to increase lagging pitch velocity
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The last thing the Blue Jays need right now is more uncertainty surrounding their pitching staff. On Thursday, though, it was revealed that Toronto is beginning to have some concerns about closer B.J. Ryan.
Ryan has displayed no health issues -- a great sign for a pitcher two seasons removed from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his left elbow -- but the Jays' stopper has experienced a significant drop in velocity this spring. With less than two weeks remaining until Opening Day, Toronto is desperately trying to solve the problem.
"We're just kind of searching for answers right now," Blue Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg said. "We're trying a little bit of everything. I've watched film on him and pulled up three years ago and pulled up last year, and it's just a little bit of an oddity right now to me."
Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston indicated that Ryan's pitches have been regularly registering between 84-85 mph this spring, and touching 86-87 mph on occasion. Last season, the left-hander stayed between 86-90 mph in his third year with Toronto. Arnsberg has been working with Ryan on his pitch mechanics, trying to find the missing pitch speed.
It's a similar situation to two springs ago, when reliever Brandon League lost nearly 10 mph on his fastball. League opened the season on the disabled list, and it took him months to return to his previous form. Similar to League that year, Ryan has shown no increase in his velocity as he's moved deeper into Spring Training.
"It's just a little bit of an anomaly to me that his velocities are down a little bit, like Brandon League a couple years ago," Arnsberg said. "When you're talking six and seven miles an hour, it's a little bit different than when it's three or four and the lights come on and you know they're going to get those two, three, four [mph] back.
"Right now, I know he's frustrated with it a little bit. But, the best part that we've got going for us right now is B.J. is very healthy and he's strong like a bull, and we've just got to keep putting our nose to the grindstone and get him through the ball just a little bit better and get him finishing his pitches off."
Ryan, who is scheduled to earn $10 million in each of the next two seasons, has been dealing with multiple issues this spring. Early in camp, he elected not to suit up for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic due to concerns about his pitch mechanics.
|"...B.J. is very healthy and he's strong like a bull, and we've just got to keep putting our nose to the grindstone and get him through the ball just a little bit better and get him finishing his pitches off."|
|-- Blue Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg|
Gaston added that it's highly unlikely that Ryan would open the season on the disabled list.
"I don't think that's going to happen," Gaston said. "He's not hurt, so there's no sense in putting him on the DL. He's the type of guy, like I've said, he knew he wasn't ready to go and play in the Classic, so I don't think he's a guy who's going to say, 'Cito, I need to be out there in a save situation,' if he's not ready. He's not selfish like that."
One unusual aspect to the situation is the fact that reports from bullpen coach Bruce Walton have indicated Ryan has thrown harder in the bullpen than in some of his Grapefruit League outings.
"I know he tries hard," Gaston said. "And, what I understand from my bullpen coaches, he throws harder down in the bullpen. When he comes out, he tries so hard, he might be tightening up. Who knows? It's not coming out like he would like to see it or we'd like to see it."
In his six spring game appearances, Ryan has posted a 10.80 ERA and allowed six runs on six hits with six walks and five strikeouts over five innings. On Tuesday, Ryan logged one inning at home against the Phillies and yielded two runs on one hit -- a home run by Philadelphia's Chase Utley -- with two strikeouts and one walk.
In his first season with the Jays in 2006 after inking a five-year pact worth $47 million, Ryan compiled 38 saves with a 1.37 ERA over 65 games. Last year, Ryan returned from the disabled list in late April after rehabbing his elbow -- operated on in May '07 -- and went on to post a 2.95 ERA with 32 saves in 60 appearances.
The one positive the 33-year-old Ryan has experienced this spring has been a clean bill of health. Even so, considering the latest issue, Arnsberg said he and Walton have had to keep reminding Ryan of how far he's come since his surgery.
"I told him two or three trips ago to the mound, 'Look where you were a year ago,'" Arnsberg said. "'You've got your health and you're making lots of money, and we're going to get this thing figured out.'"
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.