Osuna now trying to manage expectations

High bar has been placed on Blue Jays' star closer

Osuna now trying to manage expectations

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The first step to becoming a star is having a breakout season. The second is to prove that wasn't a fluke by doing it again.

Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna, who made his first Grapefruit League appearance Monday against the Pirates at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, has now reached the third stage of his career. And since he's just 22 years old and already has more saves (56) than any reliever his age in history, the next big challenge just might be to manage expectations.

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Consider the recent headline on a website devoted to the team: Can Roberto Osuna become the next Mariano Rivera?

"Oh, I'm so far away from Mariano Rivera. He was the greatest closer ever," Osuna protested with a smile after pitching a scoreless third inning. "At the same time, it feels good to hear people talk about that, being as I'm far away.

"But that's my goal, to be honest. Hopefully I can stay healthy and do a better job than him," he added with a grin.

Said manager John Gibbons, when asked about Osuna's potential upside: "I look at it this way. You hope he continues to do what he's done the last couple years for the next 10 years. That would be good enough."

Against the Bucs he struck out one and gave up two singles, although one was a slow roller that snuck through the right side of the infield. He got out of the inning by getting right fielder Eury Perez to ground into a double play. The Pirates won the game, 2-1.

In his first two years, Osuna has a 0.926 WHIP and 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings. In 2016, his first full season as the closer, he had 36 saves. Gibbons believes that Osuna will not only continue to pitch well but that he can remain effective for a long time.

"Everybody focuses on the save number, the actual number. But the more opportunities you get, the higher that number will go," the manager said. "Hopefully he has a big workload this year because I think he'll be as good as the number of opportunities he gets.

"And I think he should be good for a long, long time. Over time, naturally, he's going to lose some of his fastball. But he's got a great feel for pitching, and he'll be able to adjust off that. A lot of guys can't do that, but he can. He's got a good little breaking ball. He's really a pitcher, you know?"

Osuna's four-seamer fastball sits at 97 mph, but he worked out this winter in hopes of adding some velocity. "And he's a young guy who's starting to mature naturally, so he's going to put on a little muscle anyway," Gibbons said. "I think he looks good, I really do."

Osuna will represent Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. "When he leaves here and heads there, he'll be good and ready to go. Since he knew he was going to the WBC, he got himself going quicker than the other guys. I don't have any concerns about that."

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.