Blue Jays' closer shines in ALDS after shoulder tightness
By Alykhan Ravjiani
TORONTO -- Roberto Osuna's cleats have the words "No panic" embedded on the side, and Toronto's young closer continued to live by his personal mantra in the Blue Jays' American League Division Series sweep over the Rangers.
There were questions about Osuna's workload and availability prior to the series, but the 21-year-old answered all of them with a pair of gutsy outings in high-leverage situations.
Osuna abruptly exited the AL Wild Card Game against the Orioles in the top of the 10th inning after feeling a stretch in his right shoulder -- in part due to fatigue -- and his availability in the early portion of the ALDS remained a mystery, with manager John Gibbons carrying eight relievers into the series as a precaution.
That mystery would quickly be put to rest. A blowout victory in Game 1 on Thursday provided Osuna with some needed time off, and he responded with a five-out save in Game 2 on Friday before working two clean innings in Sunday's series clincher. Osuna picked up his first postseason win when Josh Donaldson scampered home on Rougned Odor's throwing error.
"It was just big for us to come out in Game 1 and give him that extra day of rest he needed," Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar said. "This is one of the best closers in the game -- a kid who's not ever afraid of the big stage.
"For him to come in two games out of the series and give us multiple innings is huge. He's a warrior. To me, he's the best closer in the world."
In just his second Major League season, Osuna logged a career-high 74 innings and pitched to a 2.68 ERA with 36 saves. He struggled from the start of August through September with a 4.56 ERA, surrendering six of his nine home runs and experiencing gradual dips in velocity.
With the Blue Jays headed to the AL Championship Series for the second straight year, and their bullpen already missing Joaquin Benoit (left calf) and Francisco Liriano (concussion), it remains likely that Osuna will continue to receive a heavy workload. Gibbons has had an open line of communication with his closer all season, and that workload will continue to be a prominent point of discussion.
Game 1 of the ALCS is scheduled for Friday in Cleveland (8 p.m. ET on TBS and, in Canada, Sportsnet and RDS), and the four days off will help ease some of the pressure that comes with the daily grind.
"It's a tough thing to balance," Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said. "I think [Game 3] was a perfect example of that. It would have been really unlikely for him to come back and pitch the next day. Gibby felt it was best to give him that extra inning [Sunday], and it worked out in our favor. Roberto feels great today. He recovered well."
Osuna's Game 3 effort was in part due to a quick first inning of work, which required just eight pitches. All told, he threw 22 pitches over two frames, and he continues to be Toronto's rock at the back end of a surprisingly strong bullpen this postseason.
"He's done a tremendous job," teammate Jose Bautista said. "He was able to gut it out for us once again. I know he's not feeling 100 percent, but he's definitely getting the job done at the most important time."