2011 proved to be the year of the relief pitcher for Toronto but it was for all the wrong reasons. Gone were the days when the Blue Jays had one of the strongest bullpens in the game, a bullpen bolstered by such guys as Scott Downs, Marc Rzepczynski and Brandon League.
Anthopoulos used the off season to build a pen stocked full of former closers however as irony has it the blown save was a glaring weakness for the team down the stretch. The pen coughed up a high number of would be saves and a potential run at the pennant race in the process.
A mid season trade with STL saw the departure of Dotel and Rzepcynski leaving an already bewildered relief corps out of 2 key members and putting a heavier load on guys like Jon Rauch and Luis Perez.
At the end of the season, Toronto’s pen ended up tied for the AL lead in blown saves with 25 and an overall ERA of 3.88 in 494 IP’s.
Once again Anthopoulos approached the off season tasked with updating Toronto’s late inning relief. Camp, Francisco and Rauch left while bright spots Villanueva, Janssen, Litsch, Perez & Carreno remained. Joining the ranks are new comers Cordero, Oliver and closer of the future Sergio Santos.
Also added to the mix is ex Jay Jason Frasor who prior to his departure from Toronto in 2011, made his 453rd appearance as a Blue Jay passing Duane Ward and taking the #1 spot on the all time list.
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Some Blue Jays fans may remember Santos as a power hitting SS prospect who at one time, won the Eastern League HR derby as a member of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (2007). Originally sent to the Jays in the Troy Glaus deal, Santos was touted as being an offensive middle infielder with a “Plus” arm and played for both AA and AAA affiliates before being placed on waivers in 2008. Minnesota claimed him off the waiver wire and he played the rest of the season for their AAA club Rochester Red Wings, opting for Free Agency at the end of the season.
Picked up by the White Sox in 2009, Santos decided to make the switch from position player to pitcher. Santos pitched his way through 4 minor league affiliates before earning 7th spot in the Sox Bullpen out of Spring Training (2010).
On August 11th 2011, Santos set a new ML record when he recorded his 25th straight scoreless inning pitched (on the road) passing none other than future Hall of Famer, Mariano Rivera.
Santos looks to continue improving on his 3.29 career ERA as he comes in to camp slated to be the Blue Jays closer in 2012. He will rely heavily on his mid 90’s fastball and filthy slider as he works on his changeup and ever developing curveball. The fact that Santos has a mere 3 years of wear and tear on his arm has Blue Jays management & fans alike excited for his future north of the border.
Oliver comes in to camp ready to play an elder role in the Blue Jays bullpen. The 41 year old LHP has been in the Majors since the days of WAMCO posting a 4.60 ERA in the process.
After 10 + years in the Big’s everything finally came together for Oliver in ’06 while with the Mets. Used as a reliever, Oliver recorded his best season yet finishing the year with a 3.44 ERA in 81 IP’s. Oliver hit the Free Agent market at the end of the 2006 season and ended up signing with LAA were he continued to put up decent numbers out of the pen.
Oliver has turned in 4 consecutive seasons of sub 3.00 ERA’s while gradually working his way down to a career best 2.29 in 2011, pitching for the American League Champion Texas Rangers.
Look for Oliver to take over the “Left Handed Specialist” role in the Jays pen in 2012 while he brings with him a veteran presence and steady relief. It should be noted that Oliver has pitched in the postseason 6 consecutive years while with 3 separate teams… Let’s hope the trend continues.
CoCo is coming off another season closing out ball games for the Reds. During his 13 years in the majors, Cordero has recorded 327 saves, made 3 All Star appearances and finished out the season 7 times with an ERA under 3.
Although his velocity has decreased in the past couple of years, Cordero has become more of a location pitcher who is known for inducing ground balls in key situations. He can no longer mow down hitters the way he did when he broke into the league in 99 however he can outsmart them by mixing in his ever improving curveball and changeup.
In 2011, Cordero lowered his overall Walk total from 36 in 2010, to 22 while allowing a mere 49 hits in 69.2 IP’s. Although he surrendered 6 Blown Saves, he also locked down 37 games, 4 more than the collective total amassed by the Jays relievers in 2011.
The addition of these 3 pitchers (with the subtractions of some others) has transformed Toronto’s pen into what could be one of the strongest staff’s in the American League. Hopefully this strength will translate into confidence within the starting rotation as they will be able to pitch without reservation or hesitation in 2012.