Blue Jays rely on experience, youth in bullpen
Hawkins, Osuna lead charge as game's oldest, youngest players
TORONTO -- If you want to see two worlds collide, walk into the Blue Jays' clubhouse, turn left, and four or five lockers in, you'll find LaTroy Hawkins' and Roberto Osuna's jerseys hanging next to one another in adjacent stalls. It's like staring into the past and the future at the same time.
Hawkins, the Major League's oldest player at age 42, is in the home stretch of a 20-year career. He plans to retire after this season. Osuna, the 20-year-old flamethrower, is the game's youngest, having joined Toronto after pitching at no higher than Class A Advanced Dunedin last season. He was a little more than 10 weeks old when Hawkins threw his first big league pitch.
"I should take a picture and tweet it," said Hawkins, who is as adept at social media as most younger players.
Although they're at opposite ends of their careers, come from different countries, backgrounds and eras, the two right-handed relief pitchers share at least one thing in common: they're both playing key roles in the Blue Jays' bullpen as the club seeks to end baseball's longest postseason drought.
The pair already made history when they helped Toronto become the first team to have the oldest and youngest pitchers in the league record a save, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
"It's so cool," said Osuna, who has shown mettle beyond his years in locking down the Blue Jays' closer role this season. "[Hawkins] is the best teammate. He told me from Day 1 I could ask him any question I had. I called him sir and he said, 'Don't call me sir. You can call me Hawk, whatever. But not sir.'"
Hawkins appreciated the respectful introduction. He did the same thing when he met Kirby Puckett in his rookie season. Back then, rookies and younger players were "seen, not heard," as they did a lot more listening and a lot less talking.
"You can't learn when you're talking," Hawkins said.
In Osuna, Hawkins sees something similar, an inherent professional awareness that many young players in the game today don't exhibit on a daily basis.
"It all depends on the kid," Hawkins said. "You can tell Osuna had a big leaguer in his family. He knows how to carry himself in a big league clubhouse. He was taught well. His father was a pitcher. His uncle was a pitcher. He's born and bred."
Osuna's uncle, Antonio, played parts of 11 seasons in the big leagues, beginning in 1995. Hawkins knew Antonio from playing against him in the Minors and Majors. When he saw his new stallmate's last name, he inquired about his nationality and immediately saw the connection. His suspicions were affirmed when he saw Osuna take the mound for first time.
"He's battle-tested," said Hawkins. who was acquired from the Rockies at the non-waiver Trade Deadline along with Troy Tulowitzki.
Osuna has consistently outpitched expectations this season after making the team out of Spring Training. He skipped Toronto's Double-A and Triple-A affiliates and landed straight on the Blue Jays' 25-man roster. This season, Osuna has posted a 2.01 ERA, a 0.89 WHIP and 13 saves in 53 innings. He's allowed one earned run over his past 15 innings.
Hawkins said Osuna has a survival instinct on the mound, the same characteristic he believes helped him remain a viable Major League pitcher for two decades.
Osuna can't see that far ahead, but he likes to think that when he's 42, he'll still have the stuff to compete as a Major Leaguer. And he hopes he'll look like Hawkins does at age 42.
"He looks like he's 22 or 23 still. It's incredible," Osuna said. "Me, I hope to be here when I'm 42 years old. Still pitching. But only time will tell me that."