In my debut article for Tip of the Tower, I wrote about how the arrival of top prospect Aaron Sanchez would restore order to a Toronto Blue Jays bullpen that ranked next to last in the American League.
Well, I hate to brag, but it has turned out to be true. At least for the time being. Sanchez has been spectacular, but his emergence has also allowed the other relievers to settle into roles where they can succeed. The following statistics are exclusive to the last two weeks with Sanchez on the roster.
Todd Redmond has appeared in three games and has been outstanding. For a very brief period, he was being used in late innings, but has now returned to his role as the long man out of the bullpen. In over seven innings of work, Redmond has not allowed an earned run. His importance to the team was on display in that miraculous 19-inning victory against the Detroit Tigers. With Mark Buehrle struggling (yet again), Redmond was called upon to keep his team within striking distance. And that’s exactly what he did. The right-hander tossed 2 2/3 of scoreless relief. His earned run average now sits under 2.00 for the season. Very impressive.
Chad Jenkins has been back and forth between Buffalo and Toronto all season long. When he comes into a ball game, the result is usually already decided. When he ran out of the bullpen in extra innings against the Tigers, I don’t think many would have predicted he would shutout Miguel Cabrera and company over six frames. But Jenkins proved those doubters wrong. In the past two weeks, he has pitched 9 1/3 innings and has not allowed a run. He could finally be here to stay, especially with the expanded rosters taking effect in September.
An all-star last season, Brett Cecil had a rough start to 2014. Recently, though, he has shown plenty of signs of improvement. Since Sanchez was added to the bullpen, Cecil has posted a 14.29 K/9 mark. That’s highest on the staff. He has also been called on in key situations and thrived. The southpaw has stranded 94% of baserunners. This is the Cecil we know and love from a season ago.
Surprisingly, the reliever who has struggled the most of late has been Casey Janssen. Since the all-star break, he has not looked like the shutdown closer we are used to seeing. He was battling illness for a while after a vacation in the Dominican Republic and perhaps he has been knocked out of whack. I guess Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera and the rest of the Dominican Jays should have given him a heads up on what foods to avoid when he was down there. Janssen ended up losing seven pounds in 10 hours and was forced to be put on an IV. These struggles do not concern me as I expect Toronto’s closer to return to form sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile, Sanchez himself has been dominant. Through 12 1/3 major league innings, the youngster has allowed a measly three earned runs, and his record sits at 2-0. The command issues that experts warned about have been non-existent. Sanchez has only walked two batters thus far in his career. The fireball pitcher still works in the upper 90s and also gives manager John Gibbons some length. Sanchez has worked at least two innings in five of his seven outings. Furthermore, in the past two weeks, Sanchez has an ERA of 2.25 and boasts a dazzling 61% ground ball rate.
Collectively, when you exclude the single performance of Brad Mills, who was called up after the 19-inning marathon solely out of desperation, Toronto’s bullpen ERA is 2.72 over the past 14 days. That is superb. What started the season as perhaps the biggest weakness for this club has morphed into one of its biggest strengths down the stretch.
And Aaron Sanchez is a big reason for that.