When you ask what the greatest strength of the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen is, you’ll get the same answer from coaches and players: this current group offers a lot of different looks.
While the Jays relievers are all right-handed, minus Tim Mayza, they offer manager John Schneider a multitude of ways to get guys out. Adam Cimber is the sidewinder; David Phelps is the five-pitch veteran with low-homer potential; Trevor Richards is the reverse splits guy with the high-whiff changeup.
A strong, deep bullpen is critical to postseason success, but you also need superstar shutdown arms – and, very quietly, that’s what the Blue Jays have amassed. The addition of Anthony Bass from the Miami Marlins has created a three-headed monster of sorts, with Bass, Yimi García, and Jordan Romano forming one of the AL’s fiercest late-inning trios.
Since August 1, Bass, García, and Romano have pitched 61 innings and produced a collective 2.51 ERA.
“We’re really confident, not only us three but the entire bullpen,” said Bass. “Everyone has their strength and what they do really well. And we all know what our strengths are. And we know that when we get in the game, we don't have to change anything.”
Bass mentioned self-trust as a big factor in this group’s emergence. That’s great to hear if you’re a Blue Jays fan who had to witness a flurry of shaky collapses from last year’s ‘pen. But the greater takeaway is the trust Schneider now has when he’s game-planning matchups in tight spots and has more than a couple options to choose from.
Closer Jordan Romano sets the bar for the rest of the bullpen. His 34 saves, 2.34 ERA, and 10.0 K/9 earned him his first All-Star appearance, as the 29-year-old has progressed into one of the best ninth-inning men in baseball. In recent days, he’s stumbled for back-to-back blown saves for the first time in his career, but there aren’t major concerns there.
“When I was here two years ago, and I saw him pitch out of the bullpen, I knew that he was destined to do great things in this game,” Bass said. “He’s got the right mentality of pitching in the back end of the ‘pen, just the care-free, bulldog ‘I’m-coming-at-you’ mentality. That’s what you need to have.”
For the most part, Romano’s been spectacular, but Toronto’s set-up man has been almost just as great. García, an undervalued key to the Jays’ season, has made the second-most high-leverage appearances (31) on the team, behind only Romano.
“[García is] about as cool as they come in pressure situations … He’s been awesome all year,” Schneider said during the club’s last homestand.
In theory, García is a perfect fit in the Blue Jays’ “bunch of different looks” mould since he throws five different pitches, a rarity for a lifelong reliever. In practice, however, it’s Garcia’s offspeeds that get burned. His curveball (plus-8 run value) and his changeup (plus-2 run value) have been hit around a little.
The four-seamer (minus-18 run value) has been García’s deadliest weapon in 2022. He’s using it about six percent more often than last year and his ability to keep the heater up in the zone — sometimes up out of the zone — has resulted in just two home runs allowed all season (.285 xSLG) off it.
The put-away pitch for Bass is his slider, which has added an extra 3.6 inches of vertical movement and an extra four percent whiff in 2022. Armed with that pitch — and a slow heartbeat on the hill — the 34-year-old envisions himself having success in the postseason.
“I've always been pretty strong mentally,” the reliever said. “I think seeing the success this year has allowed me to have more confidence. But I've always had the same mentality.”
As Bass preps for his first postseason innings (excluding the 2020 COVID-shortened season), he’ll use some familiar techniques to avoid cracking under pressure.
“The biggest thing, really, is you can let the moment speed you up,” Bass explained. “For me, it's controlling my breathing and to make sure I slow down a little bit on the mound and not rush myself.
“And when I say rush myself, I'm talking about my tempo to the plate not being too quick. Just take a step back, relax. I think about what I'm trying to do in this situation, and then execute my game plan under control. That’s all I’m thinking about.”
Although Bass insists the Blue Jays still have their eyes on finishing atop the AL East and earning a playoff bye, it seems far more realistic that Toronto plays in a three-game wild-card showdown with either the Tampa Bay Rays, Seattle Mariners, or Cleveland Guardians.
Whoever and wherever the Blue Jays are playing come October 7, Bass expects this bullpen — and this team as a whole — to be ready for the spotlight.
“Three-game series, whether it's here, whether it's on the road somewhere else, this team, I feel like can perform in those situations.”
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