Both may also start for Blue Jays at some point in '17
By Paul Hagen
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Long relief isn't glamorous. It is, however, a role that can have more impact than the average fan might realize.
"I think it's very important if something happens to [the starter] early," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "What's happened in the past when we really haven't had that guy is that, the next thing you know, you've got to use your whole bullpen just to get through a game. And that catches up with you the next day and the next day and the next.
"Really, true long guys are valuable to a team. Because, you know, they can also keep you in a game. Maybe if a couple guys hit home runs, you're right back in it."
Against that backdrop, two of the first three pitchers Gibbons used in Sunday's Grapefruit League home opener at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium were right-handers Joe Biagini and Mat Latos. Two guys whose futures could conceivably be influenced by the other.
Biagini was a starter for four years in the Giants' system before the Blue Jays selected him in the Rule 5 Draft, turned him into a reliever and watched as he posted a 3.06 ERA in 60 appearances. Latos was one of baseball's best starters from 2009-14, when he went 60-45 with a 3.34 ERA for the Padres and Reds. After two years during which he battled injuries and ineffectiveness, he was signed to a Minor League contract Feb. 16.
Biagini pitched 1 2/3 innings in a 10-3 loss to the Phillies; two unearned runs scored after he left the game. The Blue Jays plan to stretch him out this spring. Latos gave up one run, a homer to Andres Blanco, in two innings.
"There was no doubt [Biagini] used his changeup more, but that was his game plan going in," Gibbons said. "I thought he looked fine and I thought Latos looked pretty solid, too, first time out."
"Until [Latos] got here, there weren't necessarily a whole lot of options," Gibbons said. "Guys knocking on the door, anyway. We're not going to get carried away with Biagini. If an injury occurs to one of the five guys, we might look at him. Hopefully that doesn't happen, but it's something we're playing with because I think everybody's intrigued with what he could do as a starter. But right now he's so valuable to us in the bullpen."
Biagini conceded that he enjoys the predictable routine starters enjoy.
"I would be happy to get that opportunity sometime in my career," he said. "But it's not a big issue. I'm obviously more happy just to help this team succeed in any capacity. Compliments, high-fives or pitching."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.