Romano, Swanson ailing; bullpen to be tested

Blue Jays' key relievers sidelined with elbow inflammation, forearm tightness, respectively

March 19th, 2024

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays’ deep, talented bullpen took two blows Tuesday with news that and are both dealing with injuries, only nine days from Opening Day.

Romano has right elbow inflammation, while Swanson has experienced some right forearm tightness -- the last words you want to hear attached to relievers of their caliber. The good news is that both right-handers have undergone an MRI and neither showed any structural concerns, but this close to the start of the season, even missing a few days can be troubling.

Romano will receive an anti-inflammatory injection and back off from throwing for three days, said manager John Schneider, before trying to ramp back up again. The Canadian closer is one of the best in the business, somehow still underrated across the game despite his 2.29 ERA over the past four seasons (200 2/3 IP) and 36 saves in each of the past two. The organization hopes that some early precaution is all that’s needed.

“It was just some soreness. He was still throwing, but again, at this time of year it’s about being careful, and we wanted to do that for him and with him,” Schneider said. “It wasn’t like he was saying 'ouch' or anything, [he] just wasn’t bouncing back or feeling great. Whenever you’re in March, you want to make sure you’re taking care of those guys.”

Swanson, who last appeared in a game on March 13, “wasn’t really feeling great” after that outing, and the Blue Jays should know more about his forearm issue in the coming days. Swanson took some time away from the mound earlier in camp when his 4-year-old son, Toby, was hit by a vehicle and airlifted to hospital. Thankfully, Toby was able to return home just over a week ago.

Relievers can be more nimble in their routines than a starter, but with Opening Day in St. Petersburg coming up on March 28, even a best-case scenario for both Romano and Swanson could impact their readiness.

Next relievers in line:

If the rotation was healthy, the answers would be and . Francis already looks like a lock to replace Alek Manoah (shoulder soreness), though, and White lines up to fill in for Kevin Gausman if he needs an extra week to build back up after missing time due to shoulder fatigue earlier in camp. This leaves the Blue Jays to reach to the edges of their 40-man roster.

“I think you look to Nate Pearson, you look to Zach Pop, Brendon Little,” Schneider said. “There’s a lot of guys that are still on the roster who are in the mix. Based on how we’re built with the lefties in Timmy [Mayza] and [Génesis] Cabrera, you look at those right-handed guys. Nate and Pop are the guys you zero in on a little bit.”

Wes Parsons is available as a long reliever, too, along with veteran Paolo Espino (non 40-man), while Hagen Danner and Yosver Zulueta have 40-man spots already. On the prospect front, Connor Cooke (No. 20) could come quickly with a slider that’s beyond big-league ready. It’s still difficult to see the Blue Jays altering their timeline for No. 1 prospect Ricky Tiedemann to fit short-term injuries, particularly in the bullpen, but the gifted young lefty has done nothing but impress in camp.

Who will close games?

If Romano were to need some extra time when the season opens -- or even if the Blue Jays want to avoid back-to-backs with him early on -- there will need to be a next closer in line. You can expect the Blue Jays to say that would depend on matchups, but there are two clear candidates in Chad Green and Yimi García.

Green comes with just 11 career saves, but saw that role a handful of times with the Yankees and has pitched in enough high-leverage moments to know the ropes. García, on the other hand, saved 15 games for the Marlins in 2021 and stepped into the role a few times for the Blue Jays last season when Romano was unavailable.

That said, the different styles of Mayza and Trevor Richards create options of their own. In a perfect world for the Blue Jays, both Romano and Swanson bounce back quickly after catching these issues early, but given the spot on the calendar, the organization may need to lean on its bullpen depth earlier than anyone planned.