Notes: Bullpen depth on display; Kirk's role

September 9th, 2021

NEW YORK -- When you’re on a seven-game winning streak and flying up the standings, everything looks good, but the Blue Jays’ bullpen has been stabilizing the foundation of this recent stretch.

Too often this summer, Toronto has handed relievers a lead and tasked them with taking it the rest of the way without any further help, but the offense is finally providing some insurance, too. This looks more like a team than individual groups simply working alongside one another, and while the back end gets most of the attention, manager Charlie Montoyo preaches the value of his bridge arms in the sixth or seventh.

“There’s two guys who are used to pitching in the sixth inning where they came from, but they’re pitching in high leverage all the time: [Adam] Cimber and [Trevor] Richards,” Montoyo said. “I don’t want to forget those two names. [Jordan] Romano has been lights-out, and [Tim] Mayza has been really good. He’s my eighth-inning guy and he might close today, but Cimber and Richards are doing stuff they haven’t done before and they’re doing a great job.”

This is when bullpen management is under the microscope. A botched lead in mid-May can be forgotten, but if that happens in late September with the Wild Card race this tight, everyone notices.

The Blue Jays are leaning heavily on Romano and Mayza on the back end -- rightfully so -- but this bullpen group will need some other names to step up if they hope to turn a steady week into something more sustainable.

“When it comes to saving, I don’t want to save anybody, but it’s a communication deal,” Montoyo said. “If the workload has been a lot, like Romano because we’ve been in so many close games, of course he’s out today because he’s thrown three out of four. Same with Richards and Cimber. That’s when it comes time for the other kids like [Nate] Pearson, [Julian] Merryweather, [Tayler] Saucedo. They’re going to have to step up.”

Romano pitched on Tuesday and Wednesday, so while the Blue Jays won’t be pushing him three days in a row, they’ll give him all he can handle down the stretch. The right-hander owns a 2.50 ERA with 72 strikeouts in just 54 innings this season, and he’s getting some advice from a bullpen veteran as he steps onto an even bigger stage.

“I really like talking with [Joakim] Soria,” Romano said. “I feel like every situation in baseball, he’s been in it and through it. He’s had over 14 years in the league. Even after my tough couple of outings against Oakland, I talked to him and ran through what I was thinking, what I was doing and what I thought about it. He’s been a big help for me in the short time he’s been here.”

Captain Kirk an X-factor
will continue to see time at DH when George Springer (left knee) is unable to play, and Kirk will get looks behind the plate, too, especially when Robbie Ray is pitching. Still just 22, Kirk already has the ability to change the bottom third of this lineup.

“He was playing [at Class A Advanced] before the pandemic,” Montoyo said. “To do what he’s doing right now on this stage and going through a playoff run again, it’s so impressive to me for a guy that young.”

No. 1 prospect Moreno is back
Blue Jays top prospect Gabriel Moreno made his long-awaited return from a thumb fracture on Thursday, going 3-for-3 with a double in the Florida Complex League.

Moreno last played on June 25 and was one of the hottest players in all of Minor League Baseball, cementing himself as the Blue Jays’ “catcher of the future.” It’s unfortunate the injury caused him to miss a chunk of the season, but as long as Moreno can finish out the year strong, he’ll be one of the biggest stories in Spring Training. Over 32 games at Double-A, the 21-year-old was hitting .373 with eight home runs, 45 RBIs and a 1.092 OPS.