TORONTO - OAKLAND — John Farrell no longer has to light candles or fall to his knees in prayer when he goes to his bullpen.
For most of the Blue Jays season, Farrell has been forced to operate with one hand tied behind his back when it came to select which reliever to take the stage.
When the Jays broke camp at the end of spring training the bullpen was considered the strength of the club. It had Sergio Santos as the closer with the left-right combination of Darren Oliver and Francisco Cordero as the eighth-inning set-up guys. For the seventh, Farrell had his choice of Casey Janssen, Jason Frasor or Luis Perez with Carlos Villanueva as the long reliever.
In no time at all, though, Santos developed shoulder problems and now is lost for the season. Cordero proved to be ineffective, could not be trusted and was traded. Frasor and Perez were also lost to injury while Villanueva was bumped to the rotation when Farrell lost three of his starters.
In the interim the Jays went to a host of unproven relievers and none of them were ineffective. It got to the point where Farrell trusted Janssen as his closer and Frasor and Oliver as his set-up guys and none of the others.
Now, Janssen and Oliver are the lone two relievers still standing from the grand plan at the start of the season.
However, in the past two weeks a new and reliable bullpen has been cobbled together.
One of the last relievers the Jays turned to in their organization has proved to be the best in young lefty Aaron Loup who was promoted from double-A New Hampshire.
In trades with Houston, Pittsburgh and Seattle, Anthopoulos added Brandon Lyon, Brad Lincoln and Steve Delabar, respectively.
Farrell is now like a kid on Christmas morning not knowing which shiny new toy he should play with first.
“When you’ve got that depth and you’ve got the ability to get a swing and miss with multiple guys down there, the options are much more available to us,” Farrell said of his new toys. “To their credit they come in, they throw the ball over the plate, they throw strikes and they’ve done a very good job.”
In Sunday’s game after six solid innings from Aaron Laffey, Farrell turned to Lyon, Loup, Delabar and finally Janssen who closed it out with his 14th save of the season.
Of the relievers he now has to choose from the most surprising is Loup.
But in his short time with the Jays he has impressed with his efficiency, his attack style and the fact that he has shown he has no fear and is not afraid to trust his stuff.
“He’s got good stuff and a lot of poise,” Farrell said of Loup following Sunday’s win. In the game, Loup was called on to start the eighth with a one-run lead and went up against the meat of the A’s order in facing the 3-4-5 hitters. He opened against Josh Reddick, who earlier in the game hit a three-run home run and retired him on a grounder to second.
Next up was Yoenis Cespedes who flied out to centre. After walking Chris Carter — the first walk he has surrendered since being called up — he was replaced by Delabar, who struck out Brandon Inge to end the inning.
“Regardless of the situations that he’s (Loup) come in or the ball park and the stage he’s been pitching in, he’s been very consistent,” Farrell said. “He’s earned trust rather quickly.”
In his 10 appearances, 13 innings, he has allowed five earned runs on nine hits, has walked just the one and struck out nine.
It’s a pretty solid start for the 24-year-old, ninth-round pick (2009) from Tulane.
There’s no bigger compliment a manager can give a reliever than showing that he’s not afraid to use him in pressure situations.
“I enjoy it, enjoy it a lot, especially being in close games,” Loup said of being used in dicey situations. “The adrenalin, the thought that you’re out there with the game on the line trying to keep your team in it, it’s really fun.”
Nobody, other than perhaps, Loup expected that he’d be so effective and so cool but here he is beating all expectations.
“I knew if I could pitch the way I’m capable of pitching and go out there and do what I know I could do, I’d have success,” Loup said. “Did I think it would come this soon, and I don’t want to say this easily, but as well as it’s been going for me so soon, I probably really didn’t expect that.
“It’s come rather quickly and it’s just been a good thing.”
Janssen’s all about pride
Casey Janssen is a survivor.
The right-hander along with veteran Darren Oliver are the only two remaining relievers that started the season in the Blue Jays bullpen.
Since taking over the closer role, Janssen is 14-for-14 in save situations.
Just how has been able to block out all the distractions that have gone on in the bullpen?
“One, you have personal pride to not go out there and embarrass yourself every time you take the mound,” Janssen replied. “Two, to this day I treat every outing like it’s a tryout, I’m trying out for my next appearance, for your manager, front office, for every single person that’s watching. As far as motivation goes, playing the game we love, the day that you don’t have that passion is the day that you should hang them up.”