Bullpen thriving with roles now defined

Bullpen thriving with roles now defined

BALTIMORE -- The Blue Jays' bullpen left a lot to be desired during the first month of the season, but there have been signs lately that the results could be changing for the better.

Toronto's relievers have settled into defined roles following weeks of uncertainty. The club has firmly established Brett Cecil as the closer, with Roberto Osuna and Aaron Loup as the primary setup men.

The overall depth also has improved with the addition of right-hander Steve Delabar from Triple-A Buffalo, with Liam Hendriks and Ryan Tepera the other options in middle relief. Everything, finally, seems to be falling into place.

"Coming out of Spring Training, you'd love to have some defined roles, and I think we had a little trouble early on [determining] what we wanted to do with certain guys," Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker said. "It took a little trial and error -- some guys have stepped up and some guys have taken a step back.

"But I think for the most part, we have a good idea of who we're using late in the game right now. I feel very confident in those guys and I think they feel good about where they're at."

The Blue Jays' bullpen allowed one run over 2 1/3 innings in Wednesday's 6-1 loss to the Orioles.

Since the beginning of May, Toronto ranks fourth in the American League with a 2.31 ERA from the bullpen. The club also ranks sixth in innings pitched (35), and according to FanGraphs.com, has the best ground-ball rate at 57.6 percent.

The recent turnaround coincided with the demotion of rookie right-hander Miguel Castro, who struggled for most of April despite having a brief stint as the club's closer. Castro's departure created an opportunity to change when certain pitchers are used, and it has led to improved results.

There was a time earlier this season when the Blue Jays went without a defined closer. If some tough lefties were due up in the eighth, Cecil was used. If there were right-handed hitters headed to the plate, then the setup role went to either Castro or Osuna.

The Blue Jays have since abandoned that strategy in favor of a more traditional approach to the bullpen. Walker believes there's merit in that approach, because it allows every reliever to know exactly when he'll be used and enables each pitcher to prepare accordingly.

"There's a definite comfort zone," said Walker, who pitched eight years in the big leagues. "I've been down there, I've been in some bullpens, and when guys know when they're going to pitch, it certainly eases your mind in the 'pen. You're not apprehensive, you're not wondering when you're going to be used. You kind of have a good feel for the game.

"I think everybody falls into more of a comfort zone, which is important. As a starter, you know you get the ball every fifth day. As a reliever, when the bullpen is struggling, guys are wondering when they're going to pitch and how they're going to be used. I think, right now, we're in a better place."

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