Yates as Blue Jays' closer? It's 'his job to lose'

March 19th, 2021

is scheduled to make his second appearance of the spring on Saturday, looking to round into shape in his quest to begin the season as the Blue Jays' closer.

According to his manager and pitching coach, Yates will open the season as Toronto’s ninth-inning arm as long as he's healthy and ready to go.

“I would say it's his job to lose,” pitching coach Pete Walker said. “He has a tremendous track record, he's closed a lot of Major League games and he's one of the best relievers in baseball. We have a bunch of good guys down there that can close games as well, so when he's not available for some reason, someone else will be able to step up. But for now, if he's feeling good and he's able to take the ball consistently, which we're planning on and hoping for, then it's certainly his job to lose.”

Yates, who is returning from August surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow, made his debut on March 11 and threw a scoreless inning against the Tigers.

Walker said Yates “feels pretty good” as he continues to refine his fastball command and splitter, seeking a return to “his dominant self.” The 33-year-old (he turns 34 on Thursday) appeared in just six games last season before his elbow issue ended his year prematurely, but after signing a one-year, $5.5 million deal (with another $4.5 million in incentives), the right-hander will be a key to Toronto’s bullpen success.

“The way carries himself, he's a pro,” Walker said. “He's great to be around the young guys. It's been a great fit; he seems to enjoy it here. The rest of the bullpen seems to gravitate to him as well, so it's just a good group of guys. I think everybody's kind of accepted the fact that if he's healthy and he's feeling great and he's rolling, he's the guy down there at the end of the game.”

Nate update
’s right groin strain has the Blue Jays' top prospect sidelined at the moment, but Walker indicated some hope that the issue wouldn’t keep the young righty out for an extended period.

“Obviously there was a setback, so I think he was frustrated, and of course, we're disappointed,” Walker said. “Hopefully it's nothing more than just a little setback. I think we'll be a little bit more cautious, make sure that he's ready to roll this next time. It’s frustrating for him, but I still think he's going to be a huge impact to this season. Obviously we want to get him back out there as soon as possible.”

Walker added that Pearson would undergo further evaluations “just to make sure we figure this thing out.”

Extra bases
pitched on Friday for the first time since his September surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow, striking out four over two scoreless innings during the Blue Jays' 8-1 win against the Tigers at Joker Marchant Field.

“It was really great to see him back on the mound and feeling good,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “He threw strikes, threw some good breaking pitches. His fastball had life; it was it was good to see.”

With less than two weeks until Opening Day, Montoyo said Thornton could have enough time to be ready for the start of the season depending on how his arm rebounds.

(back) will take another step toward game action, as he’s scheduled to throw a two-inning simulated game on Sunday. Walker said Merryweather was “feeling good” after throwing a couple of side bullpen sessions.

Up next
The Blue Jays travel to Clearwater, Fla., on Saturday to take on the Phillies, as gets the start against Philadelphia’s Matt Moore. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET.