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Clippard signs with Blue Jays, enters 'pen mix

Veteran right-hander receives Minors deal, invite to Spring Training
MLB.com @gregorMLB

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays added yet another candidate for the final two spots in their bullpen by signing veteran reliever Tyler Clippard to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training on Wednesday morning.

Clippard is a two-time All-Star who posted a 4.77 ERA over 60 1/3 combined innings with the Yankees, White Sox and Astros in 2017. He averaged double-digit strikeouts per nine innings in three of the last four years but had some command issues last season with 4.6 walks per nine innings.

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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays added yet another candidate for the final two spots in their bullpen by signing veteran reliever Tyler Clippard to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training on Wednesday morning.

Clippard is a two-time All-Star who posted a 4.77 ERA over 60 1/3 combined innings with the Yankees, White Sox and Astros in 2017. He averaged double-digit strikeouts per nine innings in three of the last four years but had some command issues last season with 4.6 walks per nine innings.

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Toronto appears to have five relievers with guaranteed jobs: Roberto Osuna, Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes, Seung Hwan Oh and Aaron Loup. That leaves upwards of 10 candidates for the remaining two spots in a battle that is expected to run until the end of camp.

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"Whatever they need me to do," Clippard said shortly after the deal was announced. "That's what I told [general manager] Ross [Atkins] when I came over here. I've done everything there is to do in a bullpen. I've been a long guy. There was a period of time in Washington when they told me I was going to face a lot of lefties. Maybe even a lefty specialist as a righty for a little while.

"Set up, close, I've done it all. So I think I can bring a lot of versatility to the bullpen, which I think will be beneficial for the club and give [manager] John [Gibbons] a few more options."

John Axford, Al Alburquerque and Clippard are the veteran righties in the mix. Craig Breslow, Matt Dermody and Tim Mayza are the left-handed options, while righty Luis Santos is a candidate for long relief. Right-handers Rhiner Cruz and Carlos Ramirez also remain fringe candidates, and righty Joe Biagini may eventually enter the race once Marcus Stroman is cleared to start following a right shoulder issue.

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The biggest challenge the Blue Jays have is trying to come up with the proper configuration. The benefits of carrying a second lefty or the versatility of a multi-inning reliever have to be weighed alongside going with the best available arms. Clippard has a chance to offer a bit of everything with experience as a setup man and a career opponents' OPS vs. lefties of .597.

"Obviously, you would like to have that second lefty, for sure," Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker said. "I think that makes our job easier, but you also want to break with the best arms that you have. Maybe some versatility, different looks, different angles, different arsenals from those relief pitchers are important so it gives you different ways to attack different lineups late in games. There is certainly some opportunity for these guys for the next 2 1/2 weeks to show what they can do. They're going to get the ball consistently."

The Blue Jays have been singing the praises of Axford and Alburquerque over the last several days. Alburquerque developed a sinker midway through last season, and Walker has been trying to refine the pitch this spring to complement his featured slider. Axford has been zeroing in on his sinker and slider/cutter this spring as well, with the hopes of turning the page on last season's disappointing 6.43 ERA.

Toronto will now have an opportunity to take a similarly close look at Clippard over the next several weeks. The three veterans have to be considered the leading candidates for the final two jobs, but Breslow can't be ruled out as a possible second lefty. All four are on Minor League deals but have enough respect around the game that if it doesn't work out in Toronto and an opportunity presents itself elsewhere, the Blue Jays would make the appropriate accommodations.

That means pitchers with options such as Dermody and Mayza are long shots to crack the Opening Day roster. Santos is a legitimate dark-horse candidate for a spot in long relief, but he's on a Minor League deal, and with less of a track record, he likely can be stashed at Triple-A Buffalo. The same could be said for Cruz.

"I think most of the guys understand those situations," Walker said. "It's still never easy. As long as there's a chance of making the team, these guys are working their tails off to break with the team, and that should be their focus. But they're getting their work in and they're getting valuable experience, and that goes a long way. If they don't start the season with us, there's certainly going to be an opportunity at some point."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Tyler Clippard