TORONTO -- Dennis Tepera should be a little bit more comfortable when Spring Training gets underway in a couple of weeks. For the first time in his professional career, he doesn't have to compete for a job.Tepera finally has security following his breakout season as a key setup man for
TORONTO -- Dennis Tepera should be a little bit more comfortable when Spring Training gets underway in a couple of weeks. For the first time in his professional career, he doesn't have to compete for a job.
Tepera finally has security following his breakout season as a key setup man for closer Roberto Osuna. His extended opportunity was eight years in the making, and once it arrived, Tepera seized the moment by assuming one of the heaviest workloads in the American League.
The 30-year-old tied for fifth among AL relievers with 77 2/3 innings in 2017, and only three pitchers appeared in more games. The secure spot on this year's roster could not have come at a better of time, because after all of those pitches, Tepera benefited from an extended break.
"That's kind of why I've taken a different approach to this offseason, knowing that I'm not competing for a job," Tepera said. "In the years past, I come into spring 100 percent ready to go, trying to make the team. This spring, I can take it a little bit more relaxed and get ready for the long haul of the season and be that much stronger toward the end of the season. I think that's going to help out a lot, mentally and physically."
Tepera became a key reliever for the Blue Jays in 2017, but during Toronto's recent Winter Fest, the Texas native revealed that he volunteered to take his contributions one step further. When the Blue Jays lost J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez to injuries and were struggling to find replacements last season, Tepera offered to step in.
The role is something Tepera's familiar with. Like most big league pitchers, he began his professional career as a starter before transitioning to the bullpen in 2013. In his early years, Tepera didn't throw enough strikes to continue starting, and he instead became a max-effort arm out of the 'pen. He's older and wiser now, and if his changeup improves, there's even a chance he could work out as a starter, but that's not expected to be something the Blue Jays will seriously consider.
The plan remains the same as last year. Tepera should be expected to handle most of the eighth-inning duties in front of Osuna. Even if the Blue Jays add another arm before Opening Day, it won't change the fact that Tepera will be in a featured role alongside fellow righty Danny Barnes.
"It was all about getting an opportunity," Tepera said of his strong year. "The two previous seasons, being up and down, I never really got that real clear shot at it. This past year, especially at the beginning of the season when our starters were struggling a little bit, coming out of games early and we needed a guy to go multiple innings, that's when I got the opportunity, stepped up and proved myself."
Instead of shying away from a similar workload in 2018, Tepera is hoping to rank among the league leaders in innings pitched once again. His entire offseason was built around it.
"I've been trying to put on a little bit more weight to give me more stability," Tepera said. "I loved what happened last year. I loved the workload. It was fun. I think I was top five in innings pitched and appearances, and I would want to repeat it again this upcoming year. I think that's what I enjoyed the most, was coming to the field and having a chance to pitch every day."
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.