The Toronto Blue Jays bullpen has been a fluid, up-and-down group through 2016. A back end that bears little resemblance to the April roster is now being leaned on heavily, but going forward, the Blue Jays are hoping that Brett Cecil can recapture some of his magic.
Cecil has existed rather quietly this season, dealing with an injury earlier in the year that’s limited him to just 32 innings pitched while struggling to a 4.22 ERA, but rarely being in prominent enough spots to draw too much ire. Prior to Monday’s opener in Seattle, manager John Gibbons told reporters that Cecil will be pushed into bigger spots, and not just against lefties.
This moves is born out of small sample sizes and necessity. For Cecil’s part, he’s certainly looked better in his recent outings. Over his past 10 relief appearances (5.2 IP), Cecil has struck out 10 batters and not allowed a run. He’s been showing more confidence with his trademark curveball, too, a pitch that can take time to develop a feel for.
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Luck could also be at play when it comes to Cecil’s struggles prior to this recent stretch. Cecil has helped the luck along, of course, but an opponent’s BABIP of .364 is the highest mark of his career and he’s allowed 1.4 home runs per nine innings, well above his 0.5 HR/9 rate from 2013 to 2015. His ground ball rate has also dropped over 10 per-cent from those three dominant seasons.
Coming off a stretch as one of baseball’s strongest left-handed relievers and still controlling his walks this season (2.3 per nine innings), there’s enough reason to believe that Cecil, in a small window of playing time, could step forward as a dominant relief force. The Blue Jays might need that, too.
Jason Grilli has been a revelation for Toronto, and one of the smartest “small” trades of the 2016 season. The veteran has run into a couple of difficult outings of late, though, allowing two runs to Baltimore on August 30th and four to New York on September 6th. In his last two outings, he’s walked a pair of batters and recorded just two outs both times.
This isn’t to say that Grilli is falling off, and suggesting as much would be far too knee-jerk a reaction. In these small sample sizes at the end of a season, however, putting big stock into small numbers becomes a little easier to do. Especially with the Blue Jays looking to clamp down a playoff spot.
Joe Biagini is in the same boat, and is expected to see his workload scaled back slightly. The big right-hander has allowed runs in six of his last 11 outings and allowed home runs in three of his last six games after not allowing one all season prior to that.
With Joaquin Benoit still pitching very well since being traded to the Blue Jays — he has a 0.44 ERA in 22 appearances — and the likelihood that Grilli still has “it”, the emergence of Cecil in this high-pressure window would give Toronto a strong enough back end to compete in the playoffs.