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Font brings opener pedigree to Blue Jays roster

July 19, 2019

DETROIT -- The Blue Jays have another option for their opener role after right-hander Wilmer Font was added to the active roster prior to Friday’s series opener against the Tigers at Comerica Park. Font was acquired by the Blue Jays on Wednesday from the Mets in exchange for cash considerations.

DETROIT -- The Blue Jays have another option for their opener role after right-hander Wilmer Font was added to the active roster prior to Friday’s series opener against the Tigers at Comerica Park.

Font was acquired by the Blue Jays on Wednesday from the Mets in exchange for cash considerations. The well-traveled Venezuelan spent time in Toronto’s system in 2016, pitching at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, but has bounced around the Majors with four teams over the past four seasons, including manager Charlie Montoyo’s Rays in 2018.

That’s where the opener role comes in.

“He’s done it before and he’s done a good job with it,” Montoyo said. Stretching back to Spring Training, Montoyo has been eager to give opportunities to players he’s seen succeed with his own two eyes.

Font fits the bill, albeit over a small sample size. The right-hander made nine appearances for Tampa Bay last season, posting a 1.67 ERA over 27 innings. A strained right lat cut his season short at the end of June, but Montoyo and the Blue Jays are hoping that they can extrapolate more of that value in Toronto.

“Last time I saw him, he was really good with the Rays, opening for the Rays before he got hurt,” Montoyo said. “Then he missed the rest of the year, but when we first got him from Oakland, he was good. He did a good job opening games -- 94-97 mph, good arm.”

Charlie wasn’t the only Montoyo with the opener role in mind when Font was acquired, either. The manager said that his son, Alex, reacted to the news by saying, "Oh, good, he could be an opener for you," and his dad was thinking the same thing.

Font’s fastball, which averaged 94.6 mph in 2018 according to Statcast, will likely be the biggest variable in whether he succeeds again in the role. He threw the pitch 59.1 percent of the time in 2018, but that dropped to 42.8 percent usage this season with the Rays and Mets.

Montoyo has prioritized a heavy fastball in the opener role since arriving in Toronto, which is why right-hander Ryan Tepera was favored for the job -- if necessary -- out of spring. Now that it’s become more necessary given the health of the rotation, Derek Law and Daniel Hudson have also been used as openers, but Law owns a 6.89 ERA and Hudson has emerged as one of the club’s most reliable back-end arms.

Font was only available in emergency situations for Friday’s opener and will be available out of the bullpen this weekend. With Toronto’s starters set through Monday, when Ryan Borucki will debut, an opener won’t be needed right away. The rotation is young, though, and could soon lose its best pitcher in Marcus Stroman as the July 31 Trade Deadline looms, so Font’s opportunities as an opener could snowball when they do eventually come.

In a corresponding roster move to make room for Font on Friday, lefty Thomas Pannone was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo. Pannone threw 4 1/3 innings against the Red Sox on Thursday and allowed four runs after reaching Boston late the night before due to canceled flights.