Notes: Bullpen woes; Tellez's adjustments

June 12th, 2021

BOSTON -- Just over 12 hours after Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo sat searching for bullpen answers following a 6-5 walk-off loss to the Red Sox, he was back to his optimistic self.

The Blue Jays struggles haven’t been mysterious when they’ve come. Recent bullpen meltdowns have been blatant, but there’s no confusion when it comes to what needs to be fixed. Montoyo also points to the team’s schedule, which has been strong to this point. The Blue Jays haven’t even seen the division-worst Orioles yet, a scheduling quirk that should leave them with some winnable games coming up.

“We’ve played 45 of 60 games against teams over .500,” Montoyo said Saturday. “Our bullpen has struggled, and those are tough losses when your bullpen struggles when you have a lead, but every day these guys come back and battle. We’re in every game. [Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s] season, nobody is talking about that right now because our bullpen is struggling. [Marcus] Semien and [Teoscar] Hernández, [Randal] Grichuk, our stars are doing a good job. There’s a lot of positives.”

This is a different brand of optimism than we’ve seen from the Blue Jays in the past, though, and it needs to be. Mistakes can’t be written off as positive development experiences any more, because this team is officially built to win this season, not a couple of years down the line.

That should bring urgency with it, too. Even if it’s only mid-June, these games will have major implications down the stretch, especially against a division rival like the Red Sox.

“We’re not really a young team, I don’t think,” said Rowdy Tellez. “We’re a team that has some veteran players, some players who have been around for three, four, five years. We’re still young on paper, but for us now, we expect to win every time we go out there. We look at the things we can control, not so much hitting the ball right at people or getting held to singles on balls off the wall. We don’t look at that any more. Now, it’s about what we can do to win every single game.”

The Blue Jays hit 16 balls harder than 100 mph on Friday night, their most since Statcast began tracking in 2015, but all that matters is the score. Montoyo knows the solution is simple, and if that’s addressed, the lineup will have its chance to shine.

“It’s just happened that one phase of our team has been struggling, and that’s pretty important in the game of baseball, your bullpen,” Montoyo said. “Other than that, we’ve played really good. If we fix that and get better on that side, we’re going to do well.”

Lefty Tayler Saucedo was added to the roster just prior to Saturday’s game, with Jeremy Beasley being optioned to Triple-A and right-hander A.J. Cole (left oblique strain) being transferred to the 60-day IL. It’s the beginning of what should be many more moves to come.

Song remains the same with George Springer

George Springer continues to work his way back from a right quad strain, but the Blue Jays still have not reached a decision on a date to begin his rehab assignment.

“He did the same running progression today. He ran the bases. He’s going to take batting practice,” said Montoyo. “Don’t forget, in the Minor Leagues, they have the Monday off, so even if he wanted to start on Monday, he couldn’t because there’s no games.”

You’ve read that same update before, maybe a half-dozen times. Initially, the major hurdle for Springer was getting to a point where he was sprinting and running the bases. Now that he’s there at this point in his “progression," the Blue Jays continue to evaluate how he’s feeling day to day. It doesn’t appear, though, that a decision on a rehab assignment is coming while the Blue Jays are in Boston.

Tellez searching for 2020 form

Tellez really found his stride last season, hitting .283 with eight home runs and an .886 OPS over 35 games. Instead of hitting for power with little in between, he took a stride forward into a more professional approach and it paid off. That hasn’t carried over into 2021, where he’s hitting just .213 with a .601 OPS, but he feels he’s identified the problem.

“When I struggle, I get pull-happy and I try to hit home runs, try to pull everything," Tellez said. "I think when I get into that situation, I’ve really got to take a step back and just focus on hitting stuff through the middle of the field and being a good hitter first. Once you get into a groove and a rhythm, then you can start taking those swings where you’re trying to hit homers.”

Simply put, Tellez needs to hit. Last time Springer was activated from the IL, it was Tellez who went back to Triple-A, and given his lack of defensive flexibility beyond first base, the 26-year-old will need to make a strong case over the coming week.