Choate favourite for lefty specialist role

Veteran reliever could make roster in wake of Loup injury

March 12th, 2016

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Aaron Loup's left forearm injury has opened the door for veteran reliever Randy Choate to potentially continue his 15-year career in the big leagues.

Choate officially signed a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training on Friday, and he reported to camp the following day. There was no guarantee the 40-year-old would receive another opportunity in the Majors, but when the Blue Jays reached out Choate was more than willing to answer the phone.

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Choate doesn't have a guaranteed spot on the team, but he immediately becomes the favorite to win a spot in Toronto's bullpen. The Blue Jays have been auditioning several candidates for the second left-handed spot, and Choate's experience puts him at the forefront of that race.

"When you're sitting at home and a team like the Blue Jays calls, you're pretty excited," Choate said. "You never wish for anybody to get injured or anything like that, but [hopefully] I can come in and take advantage of an opportunity and just do the best to help this team get to where they want to go."

Before the Blue Jays make a final determination about Choate's role, he will need to prove there is something left in the tank. He would be used strictly against left-handed batters, but there will be competition from Chad Girodo, Wade LeBlanc and switch pitcher Pat Venditte for the job.

The opportunity likely never would have presented itself if Loup didn't go down with a strained left forearm during the opening week of camp. Loup has yet to resume throwing, and he will not be ready for the start of the regular season. The fact that Toronto also could option Venditte and Girodo to the Minors -- and preserve depth -- also works in Choate's favor.

Choate has spent almost his entire career in the bullpen, and most of that time has come as a specialist. He made 71 appearances with the Cardinals last season, but despite the high number of games, Choate was limited to 27 1/3 innings because he usually comes in to face one hitter at a time.

"We're going to give him a look," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He has been around, he's a seasoned veteran. He has that funky arm angle, and he has been very successful. We'll see how he looks, we brought him in for a reason."

Choate had been throwing bullpens at home in Las Vegas while waiting for the phone to ring. He doesn't need to build up a lot of endurance, and when you add in the fact that he's also not a hard thrower, Choate isn't expected to take a lot of time to get ready. He could appear in a spring game as early as next week.

During his career, Choate has limited lefties to a .195 average and .550 OPS, though those numbers dipped last year with the Cardinals. In 2015, lefties hit .265 with a .695 OPS off Choate, and even though he's the speculative favorite, there's no question he'll need to show something over the next two weeks to get a guaranteed spot.

"I'll need maybe a bullpen or some [pitchers' fielding practice], but the fortunate thing for me is obviously I'm not a guy who comes in and throws 98 mph, and I'm not going to come and throw two or three innings at a time," Choate said.

"I've been pretty fortunate to [have], I don't want to say a rubber-band arm, but an arm that can get in shape pretty quick. It doesn't take very long so hopefully another bullpen and then I'm pretty much ready to go."