Tepera becoming a force out of bullpen

September 5th, 2017

BOSTON -- The Blue Jays' bullpen has experienced more than its fair share of ups and downs during the second half of the season, but one solidifying force continues to be .
Toronto's reliable setup man has been enjoying a breakout season, and no matter how heavy his workload has been, he finds a way to get it done. The latest example came during Monday night's 10-4 victory over the Red Sox, when Tepera picked up his 15th hold of the season.
Tepera recorded five outs and didn't allow a run, once again moving into the top three for most innings pitched by an American League reliever. He has appeared in 64 games, which Toronto admitted in the past is too many, but he has been so good it has been hard to resist using him night after night.
"He has been awesome," catcher Raffy Lopez said. "I haven't been here the whole year, but just seeing it on TV and now witnessing it in person behind the plate, what he has been able to do is impressive, against tough lineups, and he's usually coming in against the heart of the lineup. He's just such a competitor, and he does a fantastic job."
Toronto scored three runs in the top of the ninth on Monday to put the game out of reach, but prior to that there were makings of late-inning drama. When starter J.A. Happ departed with two outs in the sixth, Toronto had a 7-2 lead. By the time Tepera entered with two outs in the seventh, the lead had been cut to three, and the potential tying run was in the on-deck circle.
That might not seem like a big deal, but consider how things have gone for the Blue Jays' bullpen of late. Toronto leads the Major Leagues with 13 walk-off losses and its closer, , has six blown saves and a 6.10 ERA since July 18. Even though the bullpen has been a strength for long stretches, of late it has been anything but a sure thing.
Tepera once again flipped the script by entering in the seventh and striking out with a man on base. He followed that by getting to ground out, and the fact that he finished the inning on five pitches meant he was able to come back for the eighth and do it all over again. Four batters later, another scoreless outing was in the books, and the offense had enough time to put away the game.
"He's going in, he's confident, he's executing pitches," Happ said. "Even when he gets into trouble, he's staying within himself. His stuff is explosive, and I think you see that with the strikeouts piling up and the numbers he has. He's really turned himself into an elite reliever."
This has been quite the rise for Tepera, who entered Spring Training without a guaranteed job and spent each of the last two seasons constantly being shuttled between Toronto and Triple-A Buffalo. He slowly had to work his way into a high-leverage role in 2017, but once he got it, he never gave it away.
Now the Blue Jays and pitching coach Pete Walker just have to make sure he gets enough rest to finish strong and do it all over again next year.
"Pete reminds you daily of where they're at as far as innings wise and workload," acting manager DeMarlo Hale said with a laugh. "It's no different than any other pitcher, but you want to be conscious of where they're at. With [Luis] Santos, [Carlos] Ramirez, the young guys coming up, they pitched quite a bit in Baltimore. We leaned on [Dominic] Leone, [Aaron] Loup and Tepera today. We'll lean on some others tomorrow."