Relievers battle it out for spot in bullpen

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:31 PM ET

BRADENTON, Fla. — Even with the injuries to Frank Francisco and Octavio Dotel, a logjam exists in the Blue Jays bullpen.

There’s too many arms and not enough jobs, a game of musical chairs if you will.

There are seven jobs or chairs that will be handed out at the end of spring training. If you believe that Francisco and his shoulder and Dotel and his hamstring will be fully recovered in time for the

April 1 season opener, it leaves 10 potential candidates for the spots.

Francisco was a sure thing until running into his shoulder woes and the same goes for Dotel. The other candidates with a guaranteed job are Jon Rauch, Shawn Camp and Jason Frasor.

That leaves two spots for the likes of David Purcey, who has a leg up by being a lefty, Carlos Villanueva and Casey Janssen plus starting candidates Jo-Jo Reyes and Marc Rzepczynski, who are both left-handed.

Reyes should make the team both because of what he’s shown so far — and he can nail down a spot with a good performance in Thursday game against the Phillies while filling in for Ricky Romero, who has a mild finger issue. Reyes also is out of options meaning that the Jays can’t move him to the minor leagues without having him clear waivers.

It’s unlikely they are prepared to roll the dice and take that route.

Being a hoarder by nature, general manager Alex Anthopoulos will find a way to keep them all and that means the guys in the biggest danger of ending up in Las Vegas with the triple-A team are Janssen and Villanueva, both of whom have options.

Villanueva, a right-hander, has spent the better part of the past five years pitching for the Brewers and was obtained in a trade for a player to be named later.

In the bullpen, he can fill a variety of roles

“He’s got very good secondary stuff,” Farrell said of his assortment of off-speed stuff. “Particularly his changeup. His changeup is really his calling card that he can throw to lefties and righties. It has the ability to be a put-away type pitch. He’s one of those pitchers that’s not afraid to throw any pitch in any count. He can pitch backward at times (throw breaking balls in fastball counts). He can pitch off his fastball on occasion and keep guys honest.

“He can start, he can go long, go an inning at a time, can match up against lefties because of that changeup. He’s a versatile guy and a guy that had some good years in Milwaukee under his belt.”

But because of the numbers game all the above may not mean squat.

“I know the situation and a team always needs more pitchers,” Villanueva said, noting that injuries always pop up during the long season. “It sucks in a way but it’s good for them (the Jays).”

In Wednesday’s game against Pittsburgh, Villanueva came on in the sixth and immediately gave up a leadoff double. But he retired the next three batters in order to keep the inning scoreless.

“So far I’ve been able to stay under the radar and have done some pretty good things,” said Villanueva, who in six outings has yet to give up a run. “I’m feeling better as the camp has gone on and I’m taking it day by day now.”

So far, he has shown a good command of the strike zone — he has walked just one batter — and isn’t intimidated by the numbers game because of all the relievers that Anthopoulos has brought into camp.

“I’m part of the Blue Jays now and the more guys we have that can get the job done in the back end of the bullpen, the better,” he said. “It’s never a bad thing and competition brings out the best in all the guys. They are going to take the best seven guys that are able to help the team.

“That’s fine with me and that should be fine with everybody else. Hopefully that includes me.”

The way he’s been performing, it should.


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