TORONTO – Watching Brett Cecil pitch, it's difficult to imagine that just a little more than a year ago, a group of reporters approached his locker stall in Dunedin to ask if he'd cracked the 2013 lineup.
What's happened since - an All-Star appearance and a 2.82 ERA in 60 appearances last season and a perfect run over his first 10 outings (eight-and-two-thirds innings) this season - is special.
There was Cecil on Tuesday, called upon by manager John Gibbons in the seventh inning of a 3-3 game with the Blue Jays in a jam, bailing out his team once again.
The Orioles had runners on second and third with one out. Cecil walked slugging left-hander Chris Davis before striking out Adam Jones and Steve Clevenger.
The clutch performance paved the way to a six-run eighth and Toronto beat the Orioles 9-3, winning the opening game of a fourth-consecutive series.
“Just trying to make good pitches,” said Cecil.
Cecil is a native of Dunkirk, Maryland. He went to the University of Maryland and served as the Terrapins' closer in his sophomore year of 2006, saving 13 games to set a school record.
His success as a reliever in college prepared him for the role he's tasked with now.
“I knew right off the bat once I moved to the ‘pen that it wouldn't take long,” said Cecil. “I've done it before and it worked out in the past and it sure has now.”
GIBBONS' APPROACH TO BULLPEN
Entering Tuesday's action, the Blue Jays had received 103 2/3 innings in 19 games from their starting pitchers, an average of between five-and-a-third and five and two-thirds innings per outing.
Toronto will need more from its starting five and the sooner the better.
After this coming Monday's off day, the Blue Jays will begin a stretch in which they have one day off between April 29 and June 1. Manager John Gibbons tries to balance the short-term and long-term consequences of each decision.
“I mean, you've got to think long-term, but you're trying to win that game, too,” said Gibbons. “If they're fresh you go to them … You want (starters) to go deeper into the game, but if they start to lose it or start to tire out because of the pitches or whatever it is, you look at the lineup or what you're facing, you're trying to hold that game in check.”
You'll start to see more of J.A. Happ, Esmil Rogers and Todd Redmond in the fifth and sixth innings in games if the starters don't get deep. The specialists at the back-end of the bullpen can't be the daily option.
“If you wear them down too much, those guys aren't going to be probably effective later, anyway,” said Gibbons. “That's why you're going to need some other guys to step up and get some big outs in the sixth, maybe the seventh.”
In the last two seasons, 13 of the 20 playoff teams have had staffs that averaged six or more innings per start. The worst, Cleveland, averaged just better than five-and-two-thirds innings per start last season.
The Blue Jays, in the early going of 2014, are averaging about an out fewer per start than the Indians of last year.
If that doesn't seem like much, prorate that stat over 162 games. You're asking your bullpen to get 162 more outs over the course of the season.
INJURED JANSSEN IN TORONTO
Casey Janssen rejoined his teammates in Toronto on Tuesday after his minor-league rehab assignment was halted.
The strain in his abdominal/back area, near his oblique, hasn't improved to the point where Janssen is comfortable continuing to appear in games.
He threw an inning for Single-A Dunedin a week ago Tuesday, allowing a hit and striking out one.
“To be clear, it wasn't a setback,” said Janssen. “We realized it wasn't going to heal doing what I was doing. So instead of putting our foot on the gas, we had to take it off a bit and listen to my body a little bit more.”
Janssen played catch before Tuesday's game with the Orioles. The plan is to throw a bullpen session in Toronto later this week and, if he's feeling better, Janssen will go back out on a rehab assignment.
“That's the frustrating part. I'm not in pain,” said Janssen. “I mean there's a little bit of annoyance in there and the thing was, as long as you weren't in pain, to keep progressing. So I didn't have symptoms of pain, but realizing that the swelling wasn't going to go away and I'm in more jeopardy of maybe reinjuring, either that or somewhere else because I'm compensating, we added it all up and it didn't make sense.”
The Blue Jays' bullpen, usually reliable, had two hiccups toward the end of the just-completed road trip through Baltimore, Minnesota and Cleveland. A six-run, eight-walk eighth inning turned a 5-3 lead into a 9-5 deficit in Thursday night's loss to the Twins. On Sunday, three walks and a bases-clearing double in the sixth turned a 4-2 lead into a 5-4 deficit in a loss to the Indians.
Janssen is confident his mates will get back on track.
“Those guys are still one of the best in the game,” said Janssen. “I don't care what a game or two happened or didn't happen. Basically, these guys are really, really good. It's a strength of our team and it will be a strength of our team.”
ROGERS REBUILDING CONFIDENCE
Esmil Rogers pitched two scoreless innings to mop up Saturday's shutout win in Cleveland.
After a tough start, he needed it.
“I know that I can do that more than one time,” said Rogers. “Anytime they need me, I'm going to be there. If I'm healthy, I'm going to be great.”
Rogers has allowed a staff-high four home runs on the season in just 10 1/3 innings pitched. Watching balls fly out of the park, he admits, rattled his confidence.
“Sometimes you get a little frustrated about that because people can see you and you want to do the best you can,” said Rogers. “I think about it and I don't want it to happen again, but this is baseball. You don't know when you're going to be good and when you're going to be bad.”