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Blue Jays' camp crowded with 'pen hopefuls

Several talented arms vying this spring for 2 open relief roles
MLB.com @gregorMLB

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Blue Jays' Opening Day roster is still up in the air because of injuries, but if everyone is healthy for the start of the season the only real competition this spring can be found in the bullpen.

Roberto Osuna, Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes, Aaron Loup and Seung Hwan Oh have secure jobs, which leaves two spots up for grabs. There is no shortage of candidates, and the question Toronto must answer is whether those spots should be filled by another powerful right-handed arm, a second lefty, or a long reliever.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Blue Jays' Opening Day roster is still up in the air because of injuries, but if everyone is healthy for the start of the season the only real competition this spring can be found in the bullpen.

Roberto Osuna, Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes, Aaron Loup and Seung Hwan Oh have secure jobs, which leaves two spots up for grabs. There is no shortage of candidates, and the question Toronto must answer is whether those spots should be filled by another powerful right-handed arm, a second lefty, or a long reliever.

Here's a closer look at the candidates for each of those roles:

The set-up man
John Axford and Al Alburquerque have impressed early in camp, but it would be difficult for the Blue Jays to carry both veterans on the 25-man roster at the same time. Toronto already has right-handed set-up men -- Tepera, Barnes and Oh -- who are typically limited to one-inning outings.

The Blue Jays have room for one more of those types, but two seems like a stretch when there are other pressing needs. From this spot, Toronto is looking more for strikeouts than anything else -- someone manager John Gibbons can turn to in a high-leverage situation to retire a big right-handed bat. Alburquerque has struck out more batters per nine innings over his career than Axford (10.7 vs. 10.2), but Axford held a clear advantage in that category last season.

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The second lefty
Craig Breslow entered camp as an early favorite for this job but he's receiving competition from rookies Tim Mayza and Matt Dermody. Breslow has been experimenting with a lower arm slot, and has allowed one run on three hits while striking out three over 2 1/3 innings so far this spring.

If there's going to be a second lefty on Opening Day, it likely would be Breslow, but he could still get beat out by another righty. Mayza and Dermody will become factors at some point this season, but with options remaining on their contracts they would really have to outpitch Breslow by a wide margin over the next few weeks to earn a job.

The long reliever
Under normal circumstances, Joe Biagini would be a lock for the bullpen. Gibbons likes him in that role, and Biagini has experienced a lot of success there dating back to 2015. He's the type of long reliever who also could be used in high-leverage situations because of his ability to miss bats.

Video: PHI@TOR: Biagini handles grounder to cap 1-2-3 inning

The Blue Jays might need him as a depth piece for the rotation though, and even if he doesn't crack Toronto's starting five he might continue in a starting role for Triple-A Buffalo. Another possibility for long relief is Luis Santos, but he'll likely open the year in the Minors.

The long shots
Carlos Ramirez was one of the Blue Jays' most positive storylines in the Minors last season, but his spring has started off on the wrong foot. Ramirez has been shut down for the next few days because of soreness, and the minor injury follows a pair of consecutive rough outings. The 26-year-old, who did not allow a single earned run in the Minors last year, was always going to be a long shot to crack the Opening Day roster, but he could enter the mix later in the year.

Another name that doesn't receive a lot of attention in this competition is right-hander Rhiner Cruz. The 31-year-old has not pitched in the big leagues since 2013, but he posted a 2.84 ERA last year in Triple-A Gwinnett.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

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