Ryan positive after rough start to season
Despite blowing save, Jays closer felt good in first outing
TORONTO -- One misplaced pitch and the concerns that shadowed closer B.J. Ryan throughout the spring were thrust back to the forefront for the Blue Jays.
Ryan's first outing of the season -- a ninth-inning save opportunity against the Tigers on Tuesday night -- resulted in his first blown save of 2009. Detroit's Brandon Inge crushed the first pitch he saw from Ryan deep to center field for a game-tying solo home run, creating more questions about Ryan's status as the stopper.
On Wednesday, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston indicated that he plans on trying to avoid using Ryan on consecutive days as much as possible this season. Gaston said he hasn't talked to the closer about the situation, but named Scott Downs and Brandon League as likely candidates to see some save chances this season.
"He's still battling to get his feet back on the ground and get his velocity back to where he likes to have it," said Gaston, referring to Ryan. "We don't want to hurt him, either. If you don't have to use him, we won't use him. If we do, then I might use him, or I might not."
Gaston raised the issue of Ryan's velocity during the later stages of Spring Training, pointing out that the closer was struggling to consistently hit between 87-90 mph on the radar gun -- the range he typically met last season. Ryan downplayed the issue, claiming his woes on the mound were more a result of mechanical flaws.
The bottom line is Ryan has not looked as sharp as he has in the past. During the spring, the left-hander -- nearly two years removed from Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery on his throwing elbow -- posted a 7.00 ERA in 10 Grapefruit League outings, during which he issued eight walks over nine innings.
Ryan's velocity increased over his final few spring outings, and that trend continued in his first regular-season appearance against Detroit.
Ryan threw 15 pitches (10 strikes), mixing in 11 fastballs and four sliders. His fastballs consistently registered between 86-89 mph and his fourth pitch of the night clocked in at 90, according to the Zone Evaluation system, which relies on pitch-tracking data that is collected by cameras in the ballpark and distributed through applications on MLB.com
"He's not far off," Gaston said. "I think he's going to be fine."
As Ryan insisted at the end of Spring Training, though, his pitch speed isn't necessarily the main issue at hand. Ryan depends on deception, but he admits that last year he picked up some poor mechanical habits, which he tried to correct during Spring Training.
Consider the pitch to Inge, an 88-mph fastball that leaked up in the strike zone and out over the plate. It was an ill-timed mistake, but other than that unfortunate offering, Ryan said he was more comfortable with his delivery and pleased with his overall performance.
"I felt good," Ryan said. "I tried to pitch aggressive -- just made one bad pitch."
Ryan finished with one strikeout, and he induced a pair of groundouts to escape the inning. Toronto then rallied in the home half of the ninth to claim a 5-4 victory. Given the end result, Gaston wasn't too hard on Ryan, who is under contract for $10 million this season and next.
"He got us through the inning," Gaston said, "and got us back in the dugout and gave us a chance to win the game. That might be the one [blown save] he has all year, hopefully. We got a win out of it anyway."
Gaston also doesn't believe that the latest development will hurt Ryan's confidence at all.
"I dont think so," Gaston said. "He's been in the big leagues a long time, and he's been out there on that mound in wars all the time, so I'd be very surprised if that bugged him like that."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.