Bullpen role inspires Borucki's training

Panik, Espinal vying for utility man roster spot

February 26th, 2021

has always thought of himself as a starting pitcher, preparing each offseason with the goal of pitching every fifth day.

After spending 2020 in the bullpen, however, the left-hander had a different mindset this winter -- and with it, a new approach to the past few months.

“It was completely different for me, but I really liked it.” Borucki said. “It was probably one of my best offseasons I've ever had in terms of just the amount of work that I got. This spring, I really feel a lot sharper than I ever have coming into a Spring Training. I'm really excited about this year and where my body is and how my arm is feeling and just the preparation that I had this offseason.”

Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker and bullpen coach Matt Buschmann believed Borucki had found his niche in the bullpen, giving the 26-year-old the confidence that he had a bright future as a reliever. That allowed Borucki to tailor his offseason routine with that role in mind, prompting him to alter his throwing and weight-lifting regimen.

After a two-week hiatus following Toronto’s postseason exit, Borucki began to throw -- something he wouldn’t ordinarily have done for several more weeks. Instead of coming to camp with four or five bullpen sessions under his belt, he arrived having thrown 10 or 12.

“As a reliever you're more of a sprinter than a long-distance runner,” he said. “It was a completely different offseason for me.”

The bullpen mindset was one that Borucki struggled with at times in 2020, but the rush of coming into a game with everything on the line was something he took to quickly. He pointed to his Sept. 3 outing at Fenway Park as his first major test; he entered a tie game in the ninth inning after the Red Sox put the leadoff man on base. Borucki got two quick outs before walking Rafael Devers, then watched reliever Rafael Dolis get the third out to force extra innings. Toronto won the game in the 10th.

“That was the first time I've ever been in a situation like that,” he said. “It's a different feeling because one mistake costs you the whole game. … It definitely tests you as a competitor, but I really enjoy those moments, just being in those games when the game really matters. It was a role that I really felt comfortable in from the start.”

Back-end battle

, and (currently on the restricted list) will be among those vying for one of the final spots on the Blue Jays’ roster as the team’s utility infielder. Expect to see all three get reps around the infield this spring.

Panik played 41 games for the Blue Jays in 2020, getting 141 plate appearances while seeing time at second base, shortstop and third base. He signed a Minor League deal on Feb. 12 which will pay him $1.85 million (plus incentives) if he makes the club.

Espinal appeared in 26 games (66 plate appearances) as a rookie last year, playing the majority at shortstop while also making two relief pitching appearances.

“My main goal is to play them in different spots because it's going to be their job,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “I already talked to Joe Panik; he was a Gold Glove second baseman, so you don’t have to worry so much about playing second. Just make sure he gets more reps at third and short, because he’s played less in those spots.”

Catch the action
Sportsnet announced plans to televise a minimum of 10 Grapefruit League games this spring, beginning with Sunday’s opener against the Yankees in Tampa, which can be seen live on MLB.TV.

The second game currently scheduled to air is March 12, when the Blue Jays visit the Pirates. Other games on Sportsnet are scheduled for March 15 (at Tigers), March 20 (at Phillies), March 21 (Yankees), March 22 (Tigers), March 24 (at Yankees), March 27 (at Yankees), March 28 (Tigers) and March 29 (at Phillies).