Gibbons confirms Cecil will start season as closer

Lefty recovering from shoulder injury, expects to be ready for Opening Day

Gibbons confirms Cecil will start season as closer

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Blue Jays manager John Gibbons confirmed the obvious on Sunday morning by stating that left-hander Brett Cecil will begin the year as his closer.

Cecil's role has been locked in ever since right-hander Aaron Sanchez was moved to the rotation following a season-ending injury to starter Marcus Stroman, but Sunday marked the first time Gibbons publicly made the declaration.

The 28-year-old Cecil dealt with a minor shoulder injury earlier this spring, but he appears to be almost fully recovered. All signs point to him being ready for Opening Day and assuming the ninth-inning duties.

"Right now, it would be Cecil," Gibbons said when asked who his closer is. "Of course, earlier in the spring it could have been Sanchez, but that's probably not going to happen now. Cecil felt pretty good throwing yesterday; he'll throw again Tuesday. If everything moves in the right direction, then he'd be the guy."

Cecil arrived in camp last month openly lobbying for the job. It's something he also mentioned at the end of the 2014 season, once it became rather obvious that right-hander Casey Janssen would be departing the club via free agency.

Cecil, a Maryland native, seems to be the reliever best suited for the role. He's the most experienced pitcher in Toronto's bullpen, was a closer in college and has a handful of saves under his belt at the big league level.

Cecil's best attribute for late-inning duties is that he has struck out at least 10.4 batters per nine innings during each of the past two seasons. He'll likely be limited to the ninth inning, while left-hander Aaron Loup, right-hander Steve Delabar and rookie Miguel Castro are slated to pitch in middle relief.

Cecil doesn't possess the prototypical upper-90s velocity that a lot of closers have, but he does have the ability to hit 92-93 mph with his fastball, and it's his devastating curveball that leads to the high number of strikeouts.

"You've seen guys in the big leagues have pretty good careers closing out games that aren't overpowering," Gibbons said. "Most of them have a trick pitch. Cecil's big pitch, of course, is his curveball, but you have to be tough, you have to be tough mentally. You're going to blow some games, and you have to be able to deal with that. ... [Closers] are a different breed. There's something about that ninth inning."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.