Hawkins fits in with Toronto as middle reliever
'Excited' to pitch for team in contention, veteran tosses 1-2-3 sixth in Blue Jays debut
TORONTO -- The presence of LaTroy Hawkins doesn't change the Blue Jays' plans for closing out games, but it does give manager John Gibbons another reliable reliever to use in high-leverage situations.
Hawkins immediately made his presence felt, coming in during the sixth inning Tuesday -- with the Blue Jays trailing the Phillies by one run -- and getting a pair of groundouts before a strikeout of Ryan Howard. Toronto went on to fall, 3-2.
Gibbons said following Tuesday's blockbuster trade with Colorado that Roberto Osuna and Aaron Sanchez will remain his top choices for the eighth and ninth innings of close ballgames. The Blue Jays technically don't have an official closer, but the job likely belongs to Osuna even after Sanchez's transition to the 'pen.
Hawkins will slide into the mix in middle relief alongside right-hander Bo Schultz and lefty Brett Cecil. That leaves Liam Hendriks in the long reliever's role, while Aaron Loup likely will be put into more of a lefty-specialist position after struggling this year vs. righties.
"Sancy and Osuna are going to stay in that eight-nine spot," Gibbons said. "Troy can pitch out of the seventh, maybe the sixth. But we'll leave those two guys right where they're at."
At least on paper, Toronto's bullpen looks a lot better than it did last week. Sanchez was the first big addition after he was activated from the 15-day disabled list on Saturday. The Blue Jays hope he will pick up where he left off last year, when he made his big league debut and proceeded to take the closer's job away from Casey Janssen while posting a 1.09 ERA over 33 innings.
Hawkins is in the twilight of his career and is set to retire at the end of the season, but he appears to still have plenty left in the tank. His fastball remains in the 93-94 mph range, with an ability to top out around 95, and his renewed focus on a changeup has led to some strong numbers.
The 42-year-old has registered a 1.10 ERA in 16 1/3 innings since being activated from the 15-day disabled list. During that same span, Hawkins struck out 13 and walked just two while limiting the opposition to a .196 average. In addition to the on-field numbers, he also will provide a veteran presence to an otherwise inexperienced bullpen that struggled for most of the year.
"I was surprised, I already told my agent I didn't wanna hear any trade talk," Hawkins said when asked for his reaction to the trade. "If it's gonna happen, [it will]. If it don't, it don't. Every time you think you're going to get traded, you don't. And when you don't think you're getting traded, that's usually when it happens. If it happens, I'm down with it. If it don't, I'm fine."
Hawkins previously announced his intention to retire at the end of the season. Those plans haven't changed, so the opportunity to play for a team that is expected to play meaningful games over the final two months of the season provided a welcome change of scenery for the seasoned veteran.
"You have to consider where I came from," Hawkins said of the Rockies, who were 13 games under .500 heading into Tuesday. "It's always good to get to a place where you're in playoff contention. It wasn't that in Colorado, so this is definitely an upgrade. I'm excited to be playing some meaningful baseball in September."