TORONTO -- Kirby Yates underwent successful Tommy John surgery on his right elbow Wednesday, the Blue Jays announced, and the reliever will be out for the remainder of the 2021 season.
Yates first felt discomfort in the area following his most recent Grapefruit League outing. After the initial diagnosis of a flexor-pronator strain, Yates underwent an MRI and received a second opinion on the injury before opting for Tommy John surgery. He had the same procedure in 2006.
This was part of the risk that the Blue Jays took when they signed Yates, who turned 34 on Thursday, to a one-year deal worth $5.5 million plus incentives. The right-hander was one of baseball’s best pitchers in 2019 with the Padres, posting a 1.19 ERA with 41 saves, but he had his 2020 season cut short by a procedure to remove bone spurs from his right elbow.
“This is part of it, you know, part of it was someone that was coming off of the procedure and we knew it was very high risk with potential of high reward,” general manager Ross Atkins said Tuesday. “We feel very good about Kirby Yates in this environment, and [this is] just part of it. Part of it didn't work out for the Blue Jays this year.”
From here, the Blue Jays are expected to mirror their bullpen strategy from 2020, when closer Ken Giles went down. Without Giles, manager Charlie Montoyo turned to a handful of options in save situations, including Canadian right-hander Jordan Romano, who has dominant back-end potential.
Along with Romano, Rafael Dolis, David Phelps, Tyler Chatwood and Ryan Borucki will see high-leverage innings. This bullpen is much stronger and deeper than it was a couple of seasons ago, giving the club plenty of options, but the group had the potential to be one of the strongest units in the American League if Yates had entered the season healthy performing like his 2019 self.
Matz pitches into the sixth
Left-hander Steven Matz has looked sharp this spring and, while he had to battle through some baserunners in Thursday’s 3-3 tie with the Tigers, Matz built up to 5 1/3 innings on 81 pitches.
“I definitely think I set myself up well. I took a few things [from] working with Pete [Walker] and implemented them into the game and I feel like it really translated, so I'm really happy with where my delivery is at, where my pitches are at, where my mindset is, in terms of the pitcher I am and how to attack hitters. I felt like I definitely learned a lot this spring. I’m excited for the season and ready to, you know, play some meaningful games now.”
The Blue Jays will need Matz in those meaningful games. With two runs allowed on six hits and a pair of walks Thursday, including three strikeouts, Matz has a 1.76 ERA in the Grapefruit League play. If he can get back to that 2018-’19 form with the Mets, when he made 30 starts each season with a combined 4.09 ERA, that would at least help to stabilize the staff. This rotation is in need of upside, though, so the Blue Jays are hoping Matz can take that next step.
Biggio back in action
Cavan Biggio, scratched from Wednesday’s lineup with right pinkie finger discomfort, was back in the lineup on Thursday. Biggio injured the finger the day prior when a throw from right field to third base bounced off the runner and, when he tried to keep the ball in front of him, it jammed his finger. With that blip out of the way, Biggio is a full go for the final week of Spring Training and Opening Day.
Biggio went 1-for-3 with a single and pair of strikeouts Thursday, and this Grapefruit League exhibition season has shown a fairly accurate representation of him with a low average but high on-base percentage and some pop. Biggio is also 3-for-3 on stolen base attempts this spring and is 20-for-20 over his first two seasons in the Majors.
Having his offensive profile moving through the lineup is just another weapon for the Blue Jays, especially if he’s stretching the lineup’s depth toward the bottom.
“No room to breathe,” Biggio described the lineup. “Top to bottom, we have great hitters. As a starting pitcher or pitching staff in general facing us, it’s a very challenging task for them. You don’t really get a guy where you can take your breath and attack him confidently. We have a bunch of different guys that do different things well.”