Bullpen impresses with seven shutout innings

Bullpen impresses with seven shutout innings

TORONTO -- Francisco Liriano has forced his bullpen to work overtime on multiple occasions this season, but no matter how many times it happens, the group behind him somehow finds a way to respond.

Liriano has tossed six or more innings just once this season, and three times he has pitched fewer than four. The latest incident took place in Wednesday's 8-7 victory over the Indians, when Liriano could not get out of the third inning, but that's when the bullpen took over.

Dominic Leone, Danny Barnes, Ryan Tepera, Joe Smith and Roberto Osuna combined to toss seven scoreless innings of relief. They struck out eight, did not walk a batter and scattered six hits to provide the Blue Jays' offense with enough time to get back into the game.

"You start figuring out over time who can do what, or what role you like certain guys in," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "But the bottom line is if you're pitching well, you feel good about any of them. They've been carrying a pretty good workload lately, too, and you're always concerned about that, but they've been on a nice roll."

Toronto's bullpen finished play on Wednesday with an American League-high 126 2/3 innings this season. The prolonged absences of injured starting pitchers Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ are the main reasons why, but Liriano's overall inconsistency has also been a factor. In his first start, he couldn't make it out of the first inning, and over his last two, he tossed a combined 5 2/3 innings.

Liriano will receive every opportunity to work through his issues, but the Blue Jays can at least take some solace in the fact that their middle relief corps has started to settle into a groove. Barnes has allowed just two runs over 12 innings. Smith has allowed four runs over 17. Tepera bounced back from a rough couple of weeks and hasn't allowed a run over his last nine innings.

The bullpen has been far from perfect, overall. Toronto blew eight of its first 12 save opportunities. Jason Grilli struggled, J.P. Howell got hurt and Osuna showed plenty of rust after an abbreviated spring. The numbers still aren't pretty, but they are getting a lot better and the unheralded trio of Barnes, Tepera and Smith are three big reasons why.

"We stay in the game, we fight back and the bullpen's been great," Liriano said. "They did what they're always doing, and we stayed in the game. We fight, and we got the win, so that's what matters."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. 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.