TORONTO – Chad Jenkins is living the life of the 25th man.
On his fourth recall this season, he's been on charter planes and stayed in five-star hotels. He's ridden buses along freeways and turnpikes and stayed in not so five-star hotels, which is the routine of minor league life.
Sometimes, most of the time in fact, he's been a reliever. During his last stint in Buffalo, with the Triple-A Bisons, he was a starter.
There was that time, shortly into the season, his recall was announced and then retracted because he hadn't spent the first 10 days on option to the minor leagues.
It's been a whirlwind, to say the least.
"It's funny, I think after the second send down this year a teammate of mine in Buffalo goes, 'I don't know how you do it. I'd be so mentally wrecked I wouldn't know which way I was going,'" Jenkins told TSN.ca. "It's funny. I laugh, you know, there are times when it really gets to me and I have like a rough day and I'm down and out."
There are other days, too, like when he was traveling with Buffalo in Louisville, Kentucky. His parents had come to visit from their Atlanta-area home. Jenkins was in a bad mood, moping and struggling to accept the up and down nature of his role. The Bisons had a game that night and not long before first pitch, something clicked.
"At the end of the day I realized that I get to play a sport for a living and no matter where I am I'm healthy, my family's healthy and that's all that really matters," said Jenkins.
He feels a part of this team this time round. Jenkins is pitching. He threw a clean inning on June 4 in Detroit, using his patented sinkerball to induce three groundball outs. The next day he left an out from his first career big league save, hurling two-and-a-third scoreless innings in relief of J.A. Happ.
Fast forward five days, to Tuesday night, when Jenkins put up another three-and-a-third scoreless frames in relief of Happ. The Jays lost but Jenkins, as is the demand of the long reliever, stopped the bleeding and gave his team a chance to win.
Thanks to his three outings since the last recall, his ERA has dropped from 9.00 to 2.79.
"I'm not a big stat rat but I don't like seeing my ERA in the nines and I had to sit on that for two weeks," said Jenkins. "Every opportunity I get, in the end, is to the help the team win but at the same time it's like, a little pride in myself. I don't like seeing such a high number beside my name."
Jenkins had made four starts for Buffalo prior to rejoining the Jays. Thrust into the bullpen, he was forced to rearrange his routine.
"What's tough is when I start, I pitch, day off, side, two days off and pitch again," said Jenkins. "Your body gets into a routine. You run long distance. I lift heavy weights because that's just how I like to work out. I get back here, I switch my lifting. I lift every other day, every two days, just trying to get my body going. I stretch a lot more."
He's doing his best to "preserve bullets," as pitchers will say. Jenkins has incorporated a number of mobility exercises, including the use of the foam roller to loosen up his core muscles.
He doesn't need to throw more. He's been doing plenty of that.
"I'm getting hot it feels like every night," said Jenkins. "I know since the second day in Detroit I've had one day when I haven't thrown off a mound. Arm's holding up great, I can't complain there and hopefully I can keep it going."
Manager John Gibbons has been a vocal supporter of Jenkins. The 26-year-old former first round pick often is the odd man out because the Jays can send him to the minor leagues without first exposing him to irrevocable waivers.
Jenkins doesn't have a hard fastball and isn't a strikeout pitcher. Despite being selected 20th overall in the 2009 draft, he's come to believe the cautionary tale he heard from a minor league teammate shortly after turning pro: it's hard to make it to the big leagues; it's even harder to remain in the big leagues.
"I didn't really heed that warning," said Jenkins. "Now that I've been racking up a lot of miles I know for a fact it's hard to stay."
Pillar optioned to Buffalo
The Blue Jays sent down Kevin Pillar before Wednesday afternoon's series finale with the Twins.
The move seemed strange, although the purpose was two-fold. First, the club needs relief help with its two long men, Todd Redmond and Chad Jenkins, unavailable on Wednesday due to their recent workloads. Reliever Bobby Korecky fills the need and it's likely only for one day.
"The thinking was, we've been talking about it the last couple of days anyway, we haven't faced many lefties lately and for this next, pretty much this whole road trip, even when we get back, we don't face a lefty starter," said manager John Gibbons. "Send him down and get him some at-bats instead of sitting out there rotting."
Toronto embarks on a three-city, 10-game road trip, which starts in Baltimore on Thursday. The Orioles will throw four right-handers at the Jays. Based on the pitching matchups the Jays believe they will see, the Yankees and Reds will each throw three right-handers. When the Jays return home on June 23 to play New York, the Yankees will throw three right-handers.
The Jays aren't scheduled to see a left-hander until their home series against the White Sox, which begins on June 26.
In the absence of Colby Rasmus, Pillar has been part of a platoon with Anthony Gose in centerfield. In 38 plate appearances this season, Pillar is hitting .243/.237/.324. Three of his nine hits have been doubles.
Jays make hay
Despite the Jays' recent slide, four losses in five games, the club has wrapped up a stretch in which it played 16 of 19 games at home.
Toronto went 13-6 in that span.
The Jays have 29 games remaining before the All-Star Break, 20 of which will be played on the road.
After the trip to Baltimore (four games), New York and Cincinnati (three each), the Jays will return home to play the Yankees (three games), the Chicago White Sox (four games) and the Milwaukee Brewers (two games).
The pre-All-Star Break road trip will be a demanding one and will rack up the frequent flyer points. The Jays will go to Oakland for four games, to Anaheim for three games and then head east to play the Rays three times in Tampa Bay.