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Blue Jays may stick with effective 8-man 'pen

Reliever depth to help with usage; Donaldson makes first rehab start at 3B
MLB.com @gregorMLB

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Blue Jays' eight-man bullpen might be here to stay for awhile.

Toronto has a roster move to make later this week when Josh Donaldson returns from the 10-day disabled list. The Blue Jays could opt to send down one of their extra relievers, but a more likely course of action seems to be demoting utilityman Gift Ngoepe.

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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Blue Jays' eight-man bullpen might be here to stay for awhile.

Toronto has a roster move to make later this week when Josh Donaldson returns from the 10-day disabled list. The Blue Jays could opt to send down one of their extra relievers, but a more likely course of action seems to be demoting utilityman Gift Ngoepe.

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On paper, the Blue Jays don't have an overworked bullpen: Toronto entered play on Tuesday ranked 12th in the American League with 90 2/3 innings. The Blue Jays also have played more games than a lot of teams, so when the average amount of innings per game is factored, Toronto drops even further and has the fifth-fewest innings per game in the Majors.

The problem is those numbers don't tell the entire story. Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes and Tyler Clippard are all tied for the fourth-most appearances in the AL with 15. Seunghwan Oh is tied for 18th and John Axford is tied for 34th. The overall number of innings might not be an issue, but the number of appearances are, and that's one reason why the Blue Jays might be inclined to stick with an extra man in the 'pen.

Video: TOR@BAL: Axford K's Schoop swinging to end the game

"Yeah, I think it helps us," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "I don't think we need to stay there once our starters get rolling. But it's just the way the game works nowadays and how we're set up down there. It would make it easier ... You almost have to do it. Starters generally don't go as long as they used to."

Despite the workload, Toronto's bullpen has been one of the most effective in all of baseball this season. Blue Jays relievers rank second in the Majors with a 2.28 ERA, 10th WHIP (1.24) and 15th in opponents' batting average (.245). The relievers have become a major strength, but there is still a risk of overworking them until the starting rotation begins pitching deeper into games.

The biggest glaring hole in the Blue Jays' pen is a lack of a long reliver. Whenever a starter comes out early, Gibbons has rolled through several pitchers instead of just one or two guys to get through the rest of the game. That's an issue with seven relievers, but it's less of a problem with eight, which is one reason the Blue Jays were able to recently add Carlos Ramirez to the bullpen instead of needing to create a spot on the 40-man roster for Luis Santos.

In the meantime, the Blue Jays bullpen will continue in its current roles, which have been clearly defined over the last couple of weeks. Tepera has firmly established himself as the eighth-inning man while Barnes and Clippard have also helped bridge the gap to closer Roberto Osuna. Axford and Loup typically pitch when their team is trailing and Oh frequently has been used to get out of a jam.

Video: BOS@TOR: Oh retires Nunez to strand the bases full

"Up to this point, I think we've done an unbelievable job," said Tepera, who has a 1.98 ERA in 13 2/3 innings this season. "The starters are getting there. They haven't gone too deep into games but we've been able to pick them up and keep us in the game and get out of some tight spots."

Pearce late scratch
Steve Pearce was scratched from the starting lineup approximately one hour before the first pitch of Tuesday night's game against the Twins. The Blue Jays initially said the move was made because of a "manager's decision," but Gibbons admitted after the 7-4 victory that Pearce was scratched because of tightness in his rib cage.

Pearce had been scheduled to get the start at designated hitter. Kendrys Morales was inserted into the lineup instead and he proceeded to go 3-for-3 with two home runs and a pair of walks while snapping an 0-for-21 skid at the plate.

Donaldson plays third in rehab
Donaldson made his first start at third base during a rehab game for Class A Dunedin on Tuesday night. The three-time All-Star played seven innings in the field and went 2-for-2 at the plate with a pair of singles and an RBI.

This marked Donaldson's first game at third since he was placed on the DL in early April. He previously started a rehab game at DH on Saturday and went 0-for-3. The Blue Jays have yet to indicate when Donaldson will return, but it seems very likely he will rejoin his teammates for a three-game series against the Rays this weekend.

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

Toronto Blue Jays, John Axford, Danny Barnes, Tyler Clippard, Josh Donaldson, Seunghwan Oh, Steve Pearce, Ryan Tepera