How will Romano's injury affect Blue Jays' Deadline plans?

July 29th, 2023

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays placed All-Star closer on the 15-day injured list with lower back inflammation on Saturday, throwing a wrench into a key stretch of their schedule that includes the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline.

Romano first felt his back flare up earlier this month during the All-Star Game, which he had to exit early. A few extra days of rest got Romano back to a place where he was comfortable enough to pitch, but his back tightened up again in Friday’s 4-1 win over the Angels. This time, it was less subtle, forcing Toronto to make the IL call just before Saturday afternoon’s 6-1 win over Los Angeles.

The Canadian right-hander was in obvious pain, grinding through two outs before he walked gingerly off the mound. This is a matter of tightness and discomfort that seemed to hurt Romano most at the end of his delivery as his right leg swung through and landed. He’ll now take the 15 days, at minimum, to get right for the stretch run.

This is no small loss. Romano has pitched to a 2.79 ERA this season, his 28 saves putting him in a tie for third in MLB entering Saturday. It even looked like he’d have a shot at Duane Ward’s club record of 45 saves in 1993, which has stood for three decades, but now the club’s focus will shift to getting Romano back to his old self in time for September.

In Saturday’s victory -- which secured a win for the Blue Jays in the season series against the Angels -- the bullpen bent but didn’t break after taking over from Alek Manoah, and Alejandro Kirk’s two home runs helped build enough of a lead to avoid a save situation altogether. 

Going forward, it’s all hands on deck.

Who is the new closer?
Well, it depends on the night.

“I think we’d probably mix and match based on where we are in the lineup,” manager John Schneider said. “You look at guys who pitch at the back end between , and , obviously. I think you just mix and match based on where we are in the lineup.”

Swanson is the sensible pick to be first in line, though, and he is coming off one of the biggest relief innings of the season for this club. After Kevin Gausman loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh inning of Friday’s game, Swanson strolled in and retired three Angels batters in a row, shutting down a rally that could have flipped the game completely.

“To come in right there with two strikeouts [to start], it’s what we were banking on with his splitter,” Schneider said. “He’s been doing it all year in high-leverage spots, sometimes even higher than what we’re putting Jordan into with a three-run lead in the ninth. He’s been awesome.”

García brings some experience in the role, too, with 15 saves for the Marlins in 2021, and the Blue Jays have always placed an emphasis on having options behind Romano who have been in those big moments. Mayza would be the call if the ninth inning, for example, had a couple of lefties to work around.

How does this impact the Trade Deadline?
There are no indications that Romano’s injury is long-term, but the Blue Jays still have to adapt. If they’d rated their bullpen need at a four on the 1-to-10 scale a day ago, it’s a five or a six now. They won’t have a knee-jerk reaction, but the need can’t be ignored, either.

Toronto did some early shopping by adding Génesis Cabrera as a second lefty alongside Mayza, but another true back-end arm never hurts.

Good teams have one closer. World Series teams have three or four.

Who are the other internal bullpen options?
, recalled from Triple-A Buffalo in Romano’s place, has been mostly excellent this season. The problem for Pearson has been that the bad days look particularly bad, like the recent outing against the Mariners in Seattle that led to him being optioned. While the closing duties should be handled by the back-end trio mentioned above, everyone needs to move up a rung, and Pearson has the talent to do just that.

is the X-factor in all of this, though. Scheduled to pitch for Single-A Dunedin Saturday and soon move to Triple-A to round out his rehab from Tommy John surgery, Green could be back within a week or two. The veteran right-hander pitched in some big moments for the Yankees earlier in his career, and the timing of his return couldn’t be better.