Cecil no stranger to early-season struggles

Cecil no stranger to early-season struggles

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' bullpen needs Brett Cecil to be at his best if Toronto is going to live up to expectations this season. Through eight games, that has yet to happen.

Cecil's early-season struggles continued Tuesday night as he took the loss after allowing the go-ahead run in a 3-2 loss to the Yankees. The veteran reliever issued one walk and two hits and could not find a way to get out of the seventh inning.

The 29-year-old Cecil has been charged with two losses and one blown save in four appearances this year. The Blue Jays haven't been able to explain his early troubles, but one thing manager John Gibbons does know is that if Cecil continues down this path, it's going to be really bad news for his ballclub.

"If he's not good this year, then that's a big hole," Gibbons admitted after another tough loss. "I've seen him start slow. I thought the last pitch he threw to [Brett Gardner] was his typical curveball, and hopefully that gets him going.

"The go-ahead hit was a bleeder, and then he punched out Gardner. So, he's going to be fine. I thought he looked pretty good in Spring Training, but he's off right now, no secret about that."

Cecil was in a similar situation last season, as well. He began the year as Toronto's closer but lost the job one game into the year because of struggles that dated back to Spring Training. Those problems continued for a couple of months, but he didn't allow an earned run after June 24, which led to another season of strong numbers.

The eighth-year reliever was healthy this spring and everything seemed to be going according to plan until the regular season. Cecil tossed a scoreless inning during his first appearance of the year, but the last three have been a different story, with three runs on five hits and two walks over 1 2/3 innings.

The issues have been even more noticeable because Toronto's bullpen as a whole has struggled. In the Blue Jays' five losses this season, they had the lead going into the sixth inning in all but one of them. The hope inside the Blue Jays' clubhouse is that Cecil turns things around just like he did last year, otherwise there could be problems.

"I think guys are understanding what he wants to do out there, a little bit, so it's kind of up to myself and the pitching coach to just talk to him and just not be predictable," Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin said of Cecil, who is the club's lone lefty in the bullpen.

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.