Blue Jays feel effects of depleted 'pen in loss

June 12th, 2021

BOSTON -- The Blue Jays officially have a bullpen problem, and it cost them in Friday night’s 6-5 walk-off loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

After Vladimir Guerrero Jr. gave Toronto some insurance in the sixth inning with a deep home run over the Green Monster, Ross Stripling handed over a 5-2 lead to Tyler Chatwood, which is where it started to crumble.

Chatwood, who was quietly one of baseball’s best relievers up until late May, has suddenly hit a wall, most notably in a recent outing against the Astros where he allowed hits to all six batters he faced. On Friday night, his control left him altogether.

After hitting the first batter he faced and walking the second with the bases loaded to bring in a run, Chatwood allowed another to score on a wild pitch and finished things off by plunking Red Sox first baseman Bobby Dalbec. He threw 11 pitches and just two strikes, allowing the Blue Jays' lead to shrink to one.

“His last two outings were really good. He was back to where he was the first two months, so [trusting him] was easy, ‘Chatty, get me four outs,’” said manager Charlie Montoyo after the loss. “It seems like he somehow lost it again. I don’t know where we go from here. We have to see. I’m sure [pitching coach] Pete Walker will work with him, but that was tough to see. He was so good, then his last two outings were back to nasty Chatwood. Today, it looked like he lost it. His command was everywhere.”

Carl Edwards Jr. later allowed the game-tying home run to Christian Arroyo before Rafael Dolis surrendered the walk-off single to Alex Verdugo. Nobody envisioned Edwards Jr. pitching high-leverage innings against a division rival when he joined the Blue Jays on a Minor League deal, but that’s where this bullpen group is at right now.

“When you lose that [lead], somebody’s got to pick up the slack,” Montoyo said. “We’ve got what we got. We still have good arms, but somebody’s got to do it. We’ll see. I don’t know where we go from here. Our guys in the bullpen, they need to do the job. That’s what it is.”

That’s where the news goes from bad to worse. Edwards came back out for the eighth and Dolis got the ninth because Jordan Romano, the Blue Jays’ best reliever, was unavailable. Romano felt some tightness in his forearm Friday, Montoyo said. Toronto will evaluate how he feels Saturday, but that’s obviously a reason for concern.

Injuries have snowballed on the Blue Jays, and while they handled that admirably through the early portion of the season, that’s just not sustainable. It started before the season even began, when presumed closer Kirby Yates was lost to Tommy John surgery, and the moment Julian Merryweather came out throwing 100 mph as the heir to the closer’s throne, he hit the 60-day IL with a left oblique strain. David Phelps has been lost for the season, too, after undergoing right lat surgery.

The list goes on. Ryan Borucki, A.J. Cole, Travis Bergen, Tommy Milone are on the IL. Patrick Murphy is close to being an option again as a traditional reliever and Thomas Hatch is close to being 100 percent again. While the Blue Jays want to keep him stretched out as a starter for obvious reasons, everything has to be on the table at this point.

“As a bullpen in general, you just understand that it’s a rollercoaster,” said Stripling, who started on Friday and has experience pitching in relief. “You’re going to have weeks where you feel like you can’t do anything wrong, then weeks where you’re throwing the ball well and it’s not going your way. There’s some guys that probably feel like they’re scuffling right now, but I know that we’re going to keep putting them in high-leverage positions and spots where we expect them to help us win a baseball game. They’re going to come through for us.”

Looking long-term, the Blue Jays’ real answer might need some time. Eventually, arms will come back healthy and bring this group back closer to what we saw in the early days of the season, when it was a surprise strength. The Trade Deadline is also a major piece to this puzzle, too. Even if Toronto targets a starter, that could have a domino effect, but after the past couple of weeks, it’s clear that traditional bullpen arms will need to be a priority, too.

The Blue Jays have one of the best lineups in baseball, fully capable of making a deep run, and their starting pitching staff has enough pieces in place now that the right Deadline addition could put it in the right spot, at least for 2021. This bullpen, though, isn’t a simple fix, and until Toronto finds an answer, it'll be forced to feel the same way many of its opponents do: no late lead is safe.