After seven innings of excellent pitching from Shaun Marcum, the 2010 Blue Jays turned to one of their strong points of seasons past: the bullpen.
However, the 2010 bullpen is not the bullpen of years past. It is decently strong, but it also is a mix of new and old faces, with players like Valdez in and Accardo and Janssen returning.
The seemingly biggest issue for the bullpen right now seems to be the closer role and who will become 'the guy'. But, the even bigger issue will be the lack of left handers and the long relief.
Jeremy Accardo is perhaps the biggest question mark in the 2010 Jays bullpen and will be pushed by Jesse Carlson from triple A Las Vegas. Ever since coming to Toronto in a deal for Vinny Chulk, Accardo hasn't really panned out as a Blue Jay.
Despite being a relatively hard thrower and having promise as the future closer, Accardo has only registered one good season with the Jays, saving 30 games in 35 opportunities. Since than Accardo has seen limited time with the Blue Jays, only pitching 25 innings last season and only 12 the year before.
Accardo has made the team out of camp and with only one left hander, Scott Downs, that must mean that Gaston, Walton, and the rest of the coaching staff believe Accardo is ready for a larger chunk of innings. If Accardo falters as he has in the past, Carlson will take his position in the bullpen.
Look for Accardo to make a surprisingly strong bid to be the seventh inning man for Gaston, especially if either Frasor, Downs or Gregg pitch poorly.
Shawn Camp has shown that he can eat up a large amount of innings for the Blue Jays, taking 79 last season. Camp has also maintained a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio for his career and is an excellent fall back plan for Gaston. However, he is also susceptible to pressure from Carlson. With his lowest ERA and highest amount of innings pitched coming last season, he will not be the first pitcher sent down.
Camp bodes well for the Blue Jays' bullpen as he also shown that he can pitch more than just one inning at a time. This will come in handy with a young starting staff and the threat of more early game Rogers' phone calls to the bullpen.
Camp will be only one of many answering those calls this season.
Although many may find the following comments off, I truly believe that Casey Janssen is the key to the strength of the 2010 bullpen for the Blue Jays. Janssen is the only long reliever. He can also see middle relief work if the starting staff becomes more consistent.
With a very young staff, there will be more games in which the bullpen is called on during the second, third, fourth, and fifth innings. Casey Janssen will be needed to bridge the gap from these early innings to the mid/later innings where Valdez and the others can carry the rest.
The Blue Jays may not be winning these early bullpen games, as the starter will have surrendered a substantial amount of runs to be pulled early on, and therefore Janssen's contributions will be underrated. The way in which Janssen's contributions will be noticed is through the amount of innings and pitches he saves the arms of his fellow relievers.
The rest that Janssen provides to the other relievers is invaluable, well, because they're really going to need it.
Merkin Valdez can be seen as the replacement of Brandon League, a hard throwing right hander who is still a relative question mark. Valdez had a very good season in '08 with the San Francisco Giants but saw a regression in ERA and WHIP last year.
Valdez has an excellent slider which he loves to use as his strikeout pitch. By breaking camp with the team, it shows that the front office does have faith in Valdez, who for the Giants came out mainly to eat innings in losing games.
Sadly, if this continues to be the case for Valdez, he will get a lot of work with the Jays this season.
For a reliever, and a late reliever, Kevin Gregg does seem to lose a lot of ball games. But, at the same time, Gregg delivers a reliable fastball and the ability to go more than one inning at a time.
Gregg is also the most experienced closer on the Blue Jays and is the favourite to replace Frasor if he pitches poorly, as putting Downs at closer would see the Jays only left hander being the ninth inning man. Gregg is an excellent quick fix and a formidable relieving pitcher.
Gregg has been rocky in the past few years and thus his one year contract contains club options for the next two years, another excellent move by Alex Anthopolous. Gregg showed his worth with one and a third innings against the Rangers Wednesday night to bridge from starter Brian Tallet to the closer.
As a result, Gregg could easily become Cito Gaston's new favourite and will be relied on to hold onto ball games for the 2010 Jays.
Scott Downs is the only left handed pitcher in the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen this season meaning he could easily become a situational specialist. He was in the closer hunt but it seems as if Walton would like him to be a late inning left handed specialist, similar to Carlson but much better.
Downs will be expected to repeat the numbers of years past and if he can do so the Jays will be very happy with his services. Scott Downs is the closest to a sure thing in the Jays 2010 bullpen.
Frasor begins the season as the Jays' closer this year and for good reason. Despite blowing the opening day save against the Rangers, Frasor is Gaston's man.
Frasor sports a very good fastball even though he is not a large pitcher by any means. He complements his fastball with a change up learned in the off-season of last year.
The change up will make or break Frasor as it was a large reason for his success last year.
Frasor will have the closing job for at least the month of April and hopefully the rest of the season but there is obvious pressure on Frasor with other potential closers in the pen.
Without Roy Halladay, the Blue Jays' bullpen will miss the assured rest every fifth day, as Halladay often pitched 8.0 innings or more. The pen will also see more days in which they are forced to come in early in the ball game. Rest and bullpen management will be key and with plenty of potential relievers in the minors, Jesse Carlson and Josh Roenicke for example, injuries will be manageable.
The lack of left handers could come back to hurt the bullpen, especially if Scott Downs underachieves. The bullpen will be interesting to watch because, frankly, we will be forced to watch them a lot.
Based on the three installations written about the 2010 Blue Jays it is obvious why one can be optimistic about the youthful team. However, this optimism should not be confused with success as managing, injuries, and potential will write the 2010 story.
The Blue Jays will have a losing record. The Blue Jays will not challenge for a playoff spot, but there the team will grow and improve drastically.
Look for the Jays to finish a surprising fourth in the Al East as the Orioles' pitching staff is even more inexperienced and youthful than the Blue Jays. The Jays will finish close to last season's 75-87 record. Most likely a 72-90 record with, similar to '09, and also somewhere near 26 games behind the division leader.
The 2010 Blue Jays season may be a long one, but there will be many positives to take away from the campaign. Players like Snider, Romero, and Morrow are all ones to watch and even rookies like Drabek, Wallace, and McCoy could establish themselves this season.
The fans may not be there long past opening day, but Alex Anthopolous is convinced that if he builds this team the fans will come. It is only a matter of time.