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Should Blue Jays be worried about Osuna this September?

Should Blue Jays be worried about Osuna this September?

Posted by PanamericanWorld on September 01, 2016

On Wednesday, in the ninth inning versus the Orioles, Blue Jayscloser Roberto Osuna took a line drive off his left wrist off the bat of shortstop J.J. Hardy.

As Osuna grabbed his arm, the entire organization might have been excused for holding its breath. Without their prodigy, where would the Jays turn for help?

It turned out that Osuna’s wrist was not badly damaged and he was able to continue. The beneficiary of a 5-1 lead, Osuna remained in the game and, although he allowed a two-run homer to Jonathan Schoop, the Jays held on for the win. 

That deep-breath incident brought up the concern of how easily the best-laid plans could all come apart. What are the Jays’ ninth-inning contingencies?

Internal candidates are the threesome of Jason Grilli, Joaquin Benoit and Joe Biagini. At Triple-A Buffalo and Double-A New Hampshire, the list of 2016 saves leaders includes Ryan Tepera (18), Chris Smith (15), Dustin Antolin (10), Wil Browning (10), Danny Barnes (5) and Bo Schultz (2). Which of those would any Jays fan want to be staring in for a sign in the World Series with the Cubs’ Kris Bryant at the plate? None!

This brings up another question concerning organizational strategy. If the Jays were so concerned about the innings for 24-year-old Aaron Sanchez that they sent him to Florida for 10 days, what about the 21-year-old Osuna, who visibly sagged at the end of 2015?

It is unusual to have a major-league closer at that tender age who has already appeared in 127 games in his first two seasons. Plus, he pitched in seven high-pressure games in last year’s playoffs, with more likely to come this fall. 

Earlier this season, when Osuna recorded his 47th save, he passed ’70s closer Terry Forster for the most saves in major-league history before age 22. 

Forster and Rich Gossage were 20-year-old teammates under manager Chuck Tanner with the 1972 White Sox. While Gossage went on to forge a Hall of Fame career, Forster played 16 seasons and finished with 127 saves, ranking him 105th on the all-time list. 

How rare are saves for young pitchers? The top five in saves under the age of 22, gleaned from baseball’s top 150 all-time, reads: Osuna, 49; Forster, 46; Huston Street, 10; Mitch Williams, 8; and Neftali Feliz, 6. 

So should there be fan concern about Osuna’s heavy responsibility heading into the season’s final month? Last year, the young Mexican with major-league bloodlines — uncle Antonio pitched in the majors — was 0-2 with a 6.00 ERA in 13 games in September, converting four of six save opportunities. He allowed four homers in 12 innings. The Jays, spurred by a high-powered offence, won 11 of those 13 games. Could they do it on offence again?

There are two men, close to him, who believe in Osuna, who have faith he can shoulder the responsibility and come through down the stretch. Those would be his two main setup men, Grilli and Benoit, both 39 years old. Both have seen plenty of closers through the years. Benoit remembers when he was 21 and shakes his head. There is no comparison. He credits part of Osuna’s success to the young closer playing in the Mexican Professional League when he was 16 years old. 

“When you’re playing with older people, you take advantage of their knowledge and what you see,” Benoit said. “When you come back to your own age and play those kids, you feel like you are ahead of them. That’s impressive. He’s really mature. I tip my hat to him. Keep doing what he’s doing. We’re not going to try and change him, because I believe he knows what he’s doing and everything works out right now.”

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