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News » Toronto Blue Jays Inside Pitch 2009-03-29

Toronto Blue Jays Inside Pitch 2009-03-29

Toronto Blue Jays Inside Pitch 2009-03-29
The Blue Jays now have more to worry about than just their rotation. The back end of their pitching staff -- closer B.J. Ryan -- has sprung a leak.

Ryan, who missed the 2007 season after Tommy John surgery and bounced back in 2008 to register 32 saves and a 2.95 ERA, is missing a significant chunk of his velocity.

Instead of throwing his usual 88-91 mph, Ryan has been at 84-86 mph this spring.

"His velocity is not where it was at the end of last year, so there's concern," manager Cito Gaston said. "But he's one of the guys I really like because he has a lot of guts out there. But his velocity is down and we hope he gets it back."

At this time the Blue Jays aren't considering starting the season without the big lefty as their closer. Instead, they will continue to search for the problem.

The health of his left arm and elbow apparently are not at issue.

"He's not hurting," Gaston said.

It's a puzzle that so far has confounded pitching coach Brad Arnsberg.

"It's a little bit of an anomaly to me that his velocity is down," Arnsberg said. "When you're talking six or seven mph, it's a little different than three or four."

That's another reason the Blue Jays and their fans are approaching the season with more angst than usual.

The rotation in back of Roy Halladay, Jesse Litsch and David Purcey figures to be a revolving door, and with the uncertainty surrounding Ryan, the bullpen, thought to be a team strength, is questionable.

Offensively, the Blue Jays can't get any worse than they were in 2008, when only one player in the lineup -- Vernon Wells -- hit 20 home runs. With the expected dropoff in pitching, the mantra through spring training is for the offense to carry a bigger load.

To achieve that, third baseman Scot Rolen and first baseman Lyle Overbay will have to bounce back from subpar seasons, and youngsters such as left fielder Travis Snider and designated hitter Adam Lind will have to make significant contributions.

An 81-81 finish looks to be all this team can hope for.

THE BLUE JAYS WILL CONTEND IF ...: Absolutely everything goes their way in 2009. Initially, they will need left-handers David Purcey and Brad Mills to show instant maturity and post winning records right out of the gate. They will also need a quick return of health by right-hander Casey Janssen to stabilize the rotation in May and a return to health in June of Dustin McGowan to further bolster the rotation. Along the way they will need the bullpen to stay healthy and not be overworked. The Blue Jays also need a breakout year from right fielder Alex Rios and a Rookie of the Year type season from powerful left fielder Travis Snider. They will need big contributions from center fielder Vernon Wells, second baseman Aaron Hill, third baseman Scott Rolen and first baseman Lyle Overbay. That's a lot to ask.

PRIMED FOR A BIG SEASON: RF Alex Rios was amped during spring training while playing for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, and he said the experience puts him ahead of his usual pace. In 2007, Rios posted career highs of 24 home runs and 85 runs batted in. The Blue Jays believe he's capable of 35-plus home runs and 100-plus RBI. This could be his year.

ON THE DECLINE: 3B Scott Rolen experienced left shoulder problems again last season, which limited him to 115 games, 11 home runs and 50 RBI. He is still one of the better defensive third basemen in the game, but his offensive contributions are slipping badly.

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: March 29, 2009

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