'Primal' a fitting way to describe this reliever

May 28th, 2022

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If Adam Cimber’s sidearm delivery is his most recognizable trait, the warmup mound hops are a close second.

The trusty right-handed reliever is enjoying a terrific start to his first full season with the Blue Jays, seizing high-leverage spots and largely coming through in the big moments. Each of those moments starts with the same, intricate motion: Side-to-side jumps right before charging to the mound for his first pitch.

He’s been doing it for a while.

“In college, I’d sit there and I’d think too much,” Cimber said last week at Rogers Centre. “I started doing that to think that I was in a boxing ring. Just getting primal, me against the hitter, throwing punches. Don’t think. Shut the brain off.”

“Primal” is a fitting word to describe Cimber’s season to this point. No Blue Jays reliever other than closer Jordan Romano has seen more high-leverage innings than Cimber, with 8 2/3 of his 19 2/3 frames coming in those situations. His 1.83 ERA is the best among the team’s regular relievers, and Cimber has been faring better against left-handed than right-handed batters (.111 batting average to lefties vs. a .213 mark against righties).

That reliability has earned him the trust of Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo -- a tall feat, considering how many close games this team has played so far. Toronto relievers lead the American League in games entered with high leverage, a stat that basically illustrates all the tight spots this bullpen has been put in.

That’s where a strong mentality comes in.

“Not getting too lost in the game situation [is key],” Cimber said of pitching in close games. “If you spend your whole game down there, innings one through nine, worrying about the score, then you’re going in and letting the story of the game get in your head, and it’s a different ballgame.”

Cimber’s visualization exercise is certainly welcome. In addition to getting him in the right headspace, it provides an endearing moment of levity between him and his teammates, who have found there’s a lot of fun to be had in shadowing Cimber’s hops.

Professional hijinks instigator Vladimir Guerrero Jr. usually leads that movement.

“It’s funny when I turn around and Vladdy is doing it behind me,” Cimber laughed.

There’s plenty of reason to keep the mood light. The Blue Jays’ offense erupted for eight runs against the Cardinals on Tuesday -- including Guerrero’s first homer in 15 games -- which could be a sign of things to come.

“All those guys in that lineup, we saw it last year, they’re going to come around,” Cimber said. “And it’s usually when the pitching starts to falter that the bats come to save us. It’s a team game. We pick each other up.”