The Toronto Blue Jays will start their 2017 season Monday afternoon with one of their key contributors unavailable because of injury.
The Blue Jays had to set their final 25-man roster for the start of the season by noon on Sunday and, apart from a couple of relatively minor personnel moves, there were no big surprises anticipated.
That quickly changed when the list was released and it was notable not so much for who was on the roster but who was not.
Roberto Osuna, Toronto’s iron-clad young closer, will start the season on the 10-day disabled list for what the team is describing as a cervical spasm or, in layman’s terms, a sore neck.
The Blue Jays did not provide any more information on the injury, its severity, or how long the 22-year-old right-hander has been bothered by it.
The Blue Jays also said they have released veteran outfielder Melvin Upton Jr., who finished the 2016 season as the regular left fielder.
That move cleared the way for Ezequiel Carrera to remain with the team as the fourth outfielder and Ryan Goins to join Darwin Barney as the two utility infielders.
It is anticipated that veteran free-agent acquisition Steve Pearce will be the everyday left fielder for the start of the season.
Osuna last pitched Friday night in Montreal in the first of their two final exhibition games against the Pittsburgh Pirates, which ended 1-1. He showed no ill-effects from his one-inning appearance in the ninth.
Toronto general manager Ross Atkins did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment on Sunday. A Blue Jays official said that Atkins likely would not comment until before the start of Monday’s game against the Orioles at Camden Yards.
Osuna’s injury was not the kind of news the Blue Jays were hoping to make on the eve of the 2017 campaign, with the American League club confident it has all the ingredients to make a third consecutive run to the postseason.
If there is any pitcher who the Blue Jays could least afford to lose it would be Osuna, who has been incredibly consistent since he secured the closer’s spot shortly into the 2015 season.
During Osuna’s absence, it seems likely that the closing duties will fall to veteran Jason Grilli, who is 40.
Osuna is unruffled in high-leverage situations, especially for somebody so young, with 56 saves in 65 save opportunities the past two years. That includes successfully converting 36 out of 42 save opportunities with a 2.68 earned-run average in 2016.
Osuna has not looked quite his old self this spring.
He played for his native Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, where he suffered a majestic meltdown in its opening game on March 9.
Entering the game in the ninth inning to try to preserve a four-run lead, Osuna was stung for five runs (four earned) on three hits and a walk in a shocking 10-9 comeback win by Italy.
After returning to the Blue Jays’ training camp in Florida, Osuna got into six games where it was noted his fastball velocity had dipped a bit.
He finished the spring campaign logging six innings, allowing five hits and two runs (none earned) with eight strikeouts and a walk. Osuna limited opposing hitters to a .217 batting average.
It could be that the Blue Jays are just being overly cautious by placing Osuna on the 10-day DL, retroactive to April 1, wanting to nip any health concerns in the bud.
“He just might have slept badly and woke up with a sore neck and they’re just being very cautious with his recovery,” was an educated guess about Osuna’s condition by a Toronto orthopedic surgeon. “But if it is related to a disk problem in his neck it could serious.”
The release of Upton was a bit surprising given his speed, something the Blue Jays are in short supply of.
But after coming over to the Blue Jays in a July trade with the San Diego Padres last year, Upton hit only .196 in 57 games.
The Blue Jays can’t option Upton to the minors without his consent and it is likely his time in Toronto has concluded. The Blue Jays could try to trade him to another team.
The Blue Jays will carry a seven-man bullpen to start the season with right-hander Dominic Leone making the grade, in place of Osuna.
Aaron Loup will return as the second lefty out of the bullpen to complement newcomer J.P. Howell while Ryan Tepera, whose spot on the team was also in doubt, also made the grade.
In another move, the Blue Jays have placed Canadian outfielder Dalton Pompey on the 10-day disabled list with a concussion and designated for assignment pitcher Mike Bolsinger, who was hoping to snag one of the openings in the bullpen.Report Typo/Error
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