The Toronto Blue Jays relief corps is providing continued evidence that John Gibbons' reputation as a solid manipulator of the bullpen is well-earned. In a season where almost everything has gone pear-shaped, what was originally thought to be a weakness has turned into a predominant strength.
Now, let's see what Gibbons does with Dustin McGowan. Just minutes after Esmil Rogers and four Jays relievers tossed a combined four-hitter at the Texas Rangers in a 6-1 win on Friday night, the Blue Jays announced that the oft-injured McGowan – still viewed by some as having the best pure stuff in the organization – was being activated off the 60-day disabled list. Todd Redmond has been optioned to Triple-A Buffalo. It is the first in a series of moves the Blue Jays will make over the next few days, with Darren Oliver due back of the disabled list and Chien-Ming Wang on the verge of signing with the team, possibly to start Tuesday in Chicago against the White Sox.
The Blue Jays bullpen faced the minimum in five relief innings Friday after Rogers, normally a reliever who is being stretched out as a starter, struck out six over four innings in his second start. The 'pen has allowed one earned run in its last 29 1/3 innings and has tossed 17 2/3 scoreless innings.
"I didn't know this bullpen really well in spring training," Gibbons said, after a four-run sixth inning set the Blue Jays on the way to their 26 win in 60 games, in front of 36,010 at the Rogers Centre. "But I know some people said this was the weakness of the team. We have a lot of different ways to attack you."
Rogers relied mostly on his fastball and slider as a reliever. Friday, he showed off a change-up and curve and after giving up a first-inning run on a two-out single by Adrian Beltre he shut the door, striking out the side in the third inning.
Neal Wagner, who was the second man out of the bullpen for Rogers, picked up his first major league win and has yet to allow a run in seven innings. Wagner gave up a hit and had a strikeout in 1 1/3 innings, then received a game ball from Rogers. Asked if he realized at any point he was going to be the winner, Wagner said "mostly, when I was sitting on the bench I just kind of realized I might steal one."
The Jays big inning started when Munenori Kawasaki was hit by a pitch from Nick Tepesch (3-5), who loaded the bases shortly thereafter before giving up a two-run double by Edwin Encarnacion and a pair of sacrifice flys by Adam Lind and J.P. Arencibia. Melky Cabrera led off the fourth inning with his third homer and drove in Kawasaki with a two-out single in the seventh as the Jays took the first game of a three-game series.