Young 'pen has potential, but collapses again

Castro, Osuna surrender lead Monday after relievers struggled Saturday

Young 'pen has potential, but collapses again

BOSTON -- The Blue Jays are exactly three weeks into the regular season, and it appears as though their beleaguered bullpen has already reached a breaking point.

Toronto had yet another late-inning collapse on Monday night, and this time it resulted in a 6-5 walk-off loss to the Red Sox. The Blue Jays entered the year knowing full well they were relying on a group of inexperienced relievers, and to date, that risk has not paid off.

Rookie right-hander Miguel Castro saw his struggles continue, as he put a pair of runners on in the bottom of the ninth inning and then served up a game-winning single to Mookie Betts. It was the fourth time in five appearances -- and fifth in seven outings -- that Castro allowed at least one run.

Betts' walk-off single

"[Castro has] had a couple of tough ones," a dejected Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said after the game. "Maybe we'll back him down a little bit. But same way with [Roberto] Osuna, we have confidence in these guys. We're asking a lot out of them, but it's just the way it goes. You find some things out.

"I love both of them, I think they're both going to be great pitchers when it's all said and done, but we're asking a lot out of them, and I'm not sure how fair that is."

Toronto entered Spring Training trying to overcome the perception of a bullpen that, at least on paper, seemed overmatched. The early spring performances by Osuna and Castro were cause for optimism, as both hurlers had dominant outings throughout the Grapefruit League season.

Results in Spring Training can often be deceiving, and perhaps that's part of the problem here. There's no question both pitchers have overpowering stuff, but the question is whether they are ready to succeed at this level after having never pitched above Class A before.

Osuna, for the most part, has been effective. He wasn't able to protect a 5-4 lead in the eighth inning on Monday, but he limited the damage to one run despite a bases-loaded, no-outs situation. Overall, Osuna has allowed just two runs over 11 1/3 innings, but it has been a different story for Castro, who has now surrendered five runs in six innings since April 14.

The 20-year-old Castro has posted two losses and two blown saves over that same period of time. At some point, the Blue Jays have to worry about what kind of damage this might be doing to his psyche, as well.

"I hope not," Gibbons said. "I hope he understands the reason I'm putting him in there is because I have confidence in the kid. I also understand how tough it is in the big leagues, and you take your lumps. He's a tough kid, he really is. He's going to be a [heck] of a pitcher."

The fallout from Monday's loss likely means Castro won't be receiving any more save opportunities in the near future. Lefty Brett Cecil is expected to return to that role, but that still leaves plenty of question marks in middle relief.

Gibbons has been facing tough decisions no matter which direction he goes. During Saturday's loss to the Rays, he pulled Osuna with two outs in the eighth, only to see Tampa Bay's rally continue when Cecil and Castro were on the mound.

Monday in Boston, Gibbons switched strategies, leaving Osuna in with runners on base in the eighth, and the Red Sox ended up scoring anyway. With the current group, it has almost gotten to the point where it seems like Gibbons' hands are completely tied.

"[Osuna] gave up the run but, you know what, he was in a big-time jam, and he showed us what he's all about," Gibbons said. "It's not easy. He's another 20-year-old; he may be the youngest guy.

"It's that thing you battle -- these guys, inexperienced and youngest guys on the team -- but they have the best stuff. That's the problem that you battle. When they're on, they can dominate you."

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.