Ryan deflects attention off himself
Southpaw praises closer Downs, accepts new role
TORONTO -- B.J. Ryan returned to Rogers Centre on Friday and said all the right things. Fresh off a stint on the disabled list and no longer the Blue Jays' closer, Ryan stood on the field and focused his comments on how well the team has been playing.
If Ryan was aggravated by Toronto's decision to strip him of his role as the stopper -- a result of his persistent struggles this season -- he wasn't going to admit it. Instead, Ryan praised the work of new closer Scott Downs, and he said he is willing to accept whatever job Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston has in store for the veteran left-hander.
"I walked in there to Cito and said, 'Cito, I'll be down there. I'll pitch whenever you want me to pitch,'" Ryan said. "We're playing good ball right now and it's a team game. That's what it's always been about here. You come here to be part of something special and you come here to win, and that's what we're doing.
"So you go down there and you blend right in. When your name's called, you get out there and make pitches and you see what happens."
The fact remains that the Blue Jays invested a lot of money for Ryan to serve as the ninth-inning specialist. The five-year, $47 million contract he inked with the team prior to the 2006 season was the largest deal for a reliever in baseball history at the time.
Ryan is under contract for $10 million this season, and he'll earn that same salary in 2010, the final year of his pact with Toronto. It is an expensive arm to have sitting in the bullpen without an assigned role, but that is precisely what the Jays have at the moment.
The hope is that Ryan can return to the type of pitcher he has been in the past for Toronto, but Gaston isn't sure what role the southpaw will fill for the time being.
"He'll fit in somewhere out there," Gaston said. "I hope he gets back to where he was before. We could use him, and hopefully, he gets back there and can help this ballclub."
On Friday night against the White Sox, Gaston turned to Ryan in the ninth inning, when the Blue Jays held an 8-3 lead. Ryan walked Jim Thome on five pitches, but he quickly settled down. The lefty followed with consecutive strikeouts of Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski before ending the game with a flyout off the bat of Chicago's Alexei Ramirez.
"He got the job done," Gaston said. "He probably made a few people nervous, but he got it done. That's good to see."
Ryan, 33, said he understood why the Jays handed the closer's job to Downs.
"You lose your role by not pitching good -- that's what it boils down to," Ryan said. "You don't pitch good, you don't make pitches and you put your team in a place that they don't need to be in. We're playing such good ball right now that it's a tough spot. It is. But you blame it on the way you pitch. I didn't pitch well."
Ryan struggled with his pitch velocity and mechanics during Spring Training and then labored with his command in the season's first month. In six appearances, Ryan recorded two blown saves in four chances and posted an 11.12 ERA with five walks across 5 2/3 innings before being placed on the 15-day DL with the muscle tightness in his left trapezius on April 23.
Ryan wasn't sure if the injury dated back to the spring.
"It could have been a tight shoulder that led to bad mechanics or bad mechanics and then a tight shoulder," Ryan said. "You don't know which one comes first. But you get bumps and bruises in this game and sometimes you do need to take a step back."
During a rehabilitation stint with Class A Dunedin, Ryan teamed with Rick Langford, Toronto's roving rehab and pitching coach, on slowing down his delivery. Ryan, who saved 32 games for the Jays last season, said the adjustments were aimed at helping the pitcher return to the form he displayed in previous seasons.
Ryan insists that his current issues are unrelated to the Tommy John ligament replacement surgery he had performed on his left elbow in May 2007. Even so, Gaston said Ryan's injury history is something the manager keeps in mind when handling the reliever's workload.
"It's been a while since he had the surgery and stuff like that, but you still have to watch him," Gaston said. "I don't want to run him out there and keep him out there too long. He hasn't been throwing that many pitches."
Gaston added that moving Ryan into a different role wasn't due to a lack of trust.
"No, he hasn't lost my trust," Gaston said. "It's just ... he certainly wasn't pitching the way he wanted to be pitching or the way we wanted him to. So it's not the point of losing trust. It's just get the job done. If you get the job done, that's fine. If you don't, then we have to try somebody else."
That's where Downs comes in. Over the past few seasons, Downs has emerged as one of the elite left-handed setup men in baseball. That success has carried over into this season, with Downs posting a 2.08 ERA and compiling 21 strikeouts vs. one walk over 17 1/3 innings.
"Downs is way underappreciated in that bullpen," Ryan said. "You're seeing what he can do -- now it's just backed up an inning."
Ryan downplayed his situation, but that doesn't mean he hasn't felt a certain level of frustration.
"You're going to face some tough challenges throughout your career," Ryan said. "It's a tough place, but you just go out there, and you continue to work hard and continue to do things to put yourself in position to succeed.
"We're playing good ball right now, so you get down there, and when Cito wants me to pitch, I'm going to come out there and pitch, and hopefully, get back to what you know you're capable of doing."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.