TORONTO -- Joe Smith is expected to be out for another week, but when he returns, the veteran reliever could be part of a new-look Blue Jays bullpen.Smith has been out since June 14 with right shoulder soreness, but he has been playing catch in recent days and is expected
TORONTO -- Joe Smith is expected to be out for another week, but when he returns, the veteran reliever could be part of a new-look Blue Jays bullpen.
Smith has been out since June 14 with right shoulder soreness, but he has been playing catch in recent days and is expected to throw off a mound relatively soon. Toronto manager John Gibbons said there's a chance Smith returns for a series against the Astros from July 7-9.
Prior to the injury, Smith was the primary setup man for closer Roberto Osuna. Smith is expected to have the same role upon his return, but he'll also likely be joined in the bullpen by right-handers Joe Biagini and Glenn Sparkman, who was called up Friday.
"We're hoping maybe that Houston series, but that's not definite," Gibbons said of when Smith might return. "When he threw yesterday, he felt much better. In these next couple of days, he needs to get on a mound and we'll have a better idea."
Sparkman was part of last year's Rule 5 Draft and made his Major League debut during Friday night's 7-4 loss to the Red Sox. He entered in the 11th inning and retired two of four batters he faced while also allowing a hit and a walk. Sparkman previously had been out since Spring Training with a fractured hand, but he completed a rehab assignment with Triple-A Buffalo earlier this week. Friday marked the deadline for Toronto to add Sparkman to the roster or instead offer him back to the Royals for cash.
Toronto opted to protect Sparkman by optioning right-hander Chris Smith to Buffalo. Sparkman will now take over the long reliever's role and likely will be limited to pitching in blowouts or when a starter gets knocked out of a game early. He was pressed into action Friday as the final available reliever out of the bullpen. He allowed five runs while striking out 12 and walking five over 20 innings of his rehab.
Biagini is expected to lose his spot in the rotation when Aaron Sanchez returns from the DL. Sanchez will make what should be his final rehab start for Buffalo on Monday, and he will then be tentatively scheduled to pitch for the Blue Jays on July 7. Biagini has the ability to throw multiple innings, but he'll likely join Smith, Dennis Tepera, Danny Barnes and Aaron Loup to form the core of middle relief.
"I think he dominates out of the 'pen," Gibbons said of Biagini. "Come in there, one or two innings. ... Pitch just a couple of innings, your velocity is better and you get used more. But I think he has done a nice job, too, as a starter.
"I think eventually if he stays in that starting role, he'll end up using the wind-up a little bit. I think he has proven he can do both of them. For the first time starting, he has taken his lumps here and there, but he's still learning how to do it at this level."
Saltalamacchia released a second time
Veteran catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia has once again been released by the Blue Jays' organization. Saltalamacchia opened the year as Toronto's backup catcher, but he was designated for assignment in late April. He later re-signed with the club on a Minor League deal prior to being cut loose by Toronto on Friday afternoon.
Saltalamacchia was hitting just .162/.271/.243 with seven extra-base hits in 111 at-bats for the Bisons. Mike Ohlman and Raffy Lopez will continue to split time at catcher for Buffalo following Saltalamacchia's departure.
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.