NEW YORK -- Among baseball players who are least recognized for their contributions on the field, middle relievers often sit atop the list.
But that hasn’t been the case for Blue Jays reliever Sam Gaviglio this season, who has transitioned to the bullpen after starting in every other year of his career and is now an invaluable asset for the squad.
“He’s been one of our MVPs,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “That guy, he’s been the long guy, he’s been pitching in almost every inning. When we’re losing, when we’re winning. He’s been great, and he takes the ball every time. Today, he’s [unavailable to pitch] but I bet if you asked him right now, he’d say, ‘I’ll take the ball.’ You need guys like that.”
In Friday night’s series opener against the American League East-leading Yankees in New York, the 29-year-old right-hander threw two scoreless innings for the visitors, the sixth and seventh frames. Gaviglio has totaled 62 innings in 31 appearances, with four wins and a 4.06 ERA for the Blue Jays this year in a role that remains not strictly defined.
“I guess I’m the long guy, or even the mid-game guy, or even if they need some innings at the back end of the game, I’m that guy,” Gaviglio said.
According to Toronto bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, the role Gaviglio has taken on is vital in helping out the teammates who step on the mound both before and after him.
“For him, it’s just to get outs, either in a situation where you’re trying to save other guys in the ‘pen, other times it’s in a really close game,” Buschmann said. “So for him, it’s about going out there and being economical with his pitches and getting as many outs as he can before the next guy has to come in.”
The difficulty in embracing such a role is the number of unknowns that come along with it.
“There are a lot of challenges, because it’s the least routine-oriented role, because you just never know,” Buschmann said. “It’s definitely based on unforeseen circumstances. … From a mental standpoint, what’s probably most challenging is not knowing what to expect and having to be ready constantly.”
Added Gaviglio, “The biggest difference is just not having a routine, but I wouldn’t say it’s that hard. As a starter, I felt like I had to do this and this to be ready for the fifth day, and then as a reliever it goes out the window because it doesn’t matter until you get on the field what happens.
“There have been plenty of times I’ve been warming up down there and thinking, ‘Oh man what am I doing today?’ And I get into the game and I’m fine.”
Buschmann has been impressed by Gaviglio’s ability to make that adjustment and to be able to move from the expected to the unexpected seamlessly.
“He has a gear where if it’s unexpected, he can still be ready, and the times where it’s expected, he has his normal routine,” Buschmann said. “He’s able to go from one to the other and not be too panicked about it.”
When the time comes for Gaviglio to head to the mound in his current role, the Oregon native believes it’s all about going after each hitter as they come.
“You’ve still got to pitch, still have to make your pitches, execute,” Gaviglio said. “The only difference is you don’t have time to feel your pitches out and work through some stuff. You’ve just got to come in and attack guys.”