TORONTO – In the Blue Jays two most recent wins prior to Sunday's series finale with the Yankees, two different pitchers have picked up saves.
Neither is named Casey Janssen.
On Wednesday night, a series-salvaging 5-2 win over the Red Sox, Brett Cecil recorded the final out of the eighth and returned for the ninth to pick up his fifth save of the season.
On Saturday afternoon against the Yankees, nursing a 2-0 lead after seven innings of one-hit ball from Drew Hutchison, manager John Gibbons handed the ball to rookie Aaron Sanchez in the eighth. The 22-year-old delivered an 18-pitch, clean inning. He returned for the ninth, setting down the Yankees in order on 10 pitches and notching his first career save.
This leads one to wonder what Janssen's role will be as the final month of the season begins. The realists don't believe so but the Blue Jays still talk as though the club has a chance at the playoffs. From a personal perspective, with free agency impending for the first time in his career, Janssen needs the chance to finish strong in advance of his next pay day.
"As far as I'm concerned and Gibby, I'm sure, he's still the closer," said pitching coach Peter Walker.
It seems simple enough. Then again, maybe it isn't. Following the August 23 extra innings 5-4 win over the Rays, a game in which Sanchez tossed 1 2/3 scoreless innings before Janssen blew a 4-3 lead in the ninth, manager John Gibbons acknowledged considering using Sanchez to finish the game.
Walker implied the use of Sanchez is the club's priority.
"He has a routine," said Walker. "I think as a reliever coming to the yard ready to pitch every day, it's tough to stay in somewhat of a routine for a young pitcher. So I think it actually helps him. When he goes two innings, for the most part he knows the next day he's not pitching. He can get his work in. He can do the things he needs to do in order to maintain himself for the rest of the month."
It's understandable the organization wants to see what it has in Sanchez. The 34th overall pick of the 2010 draft is projected to be a future ace of the starting rotation. His fastball consistently sits at 96-99 miles per hour and is the product of a free and easy delivery.
What isn't explained by the Sanchez rationale, however, is the use of Cecil on Wednesday. Cecil has been terrific in the second half but Janssen, despite having appeared in the two previous games, was available to pitch.
"Because he was hot," said Walker.
Gibbons said he spoke to Janssen three weeks ago in Seattle and informed him of the plan for Sanchez, although the details of the conversation seem ambiguous. They weren't obvious to Janssen, apparently, who was warming up in the ninth inning on Saturday, an apparent force of habit.
Janssen has struggled since the All-Star Break, pitching to a 7.98 ERA with opponents posting a .985 OPS against. He contracted a virus, likely food poisoning, during an All-Star trip to the Dominican Republic and wasn't the same when he came back.
Professional sports clubs work best when there is meritocracy and in that vein, Janssen's second half performance doesn't necessarily merit him continuing as the team's closer.
However, Janssen's tenure with the ballclub, dating back to his big league debut season of 2006 and further back to his draft year of 2004, affords him the right to clarity on his situation via communication, whether that be from Gibbons or general manager Alex Anthopoulos. Not to mention the success Janssen has had in the closer's role since taking over from Sergio Santos early in the 2012 season.
"From a personal standpoint I want to get back to throwing the ball the way I know how to," said Janssen. "I want to finish as strong as I can and accelerate through the finish line and show everybody the pitcher that I am and the pitcher I was in the first half of the season."