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Five Blue Jays Thoughts: Kevin Gausman looks fine, give Yimi García the closer’s role, and more

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Photo credit:© Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Ethan Diamandas
18 days ago
MLB spring training really is a grind, and injuries and uncertainty have only made the Blue Jays’ last month even more gruelling.
That said, fresh, airy, Opening Day baseball is on its way momentarily. Toronto begins its season Thursday versus the Rays at Tropicana Field with lineup questions already answered. The club’s bench is set, Kevin Gausman looked great in his first spring outing, and the batting order is healthy.
Here are five thoughts on the Blue Jays ahead of their season opener.

Gausman looks fine

Kevin Gausman made his spring debut Monday, tearing through the Pirates over three innings, allowing one run on three hits, while recording seven of his nine outs via strikeout. The right-hander’s fastball-splitter combo was in mid-season form, surely easing the minds of the shot-callers within the Blue Jays brass.
Not to drag the vibes down, but it’s worth noting Gausman’s shoulder fatigue originated during his post-start recovery. We’ll know more once he attempts his side session, likely Wednesday, and from there, the club can decide if he needs a turn on the IL or can be stashed on the bench until he’s ready to start.

Give García the closer’s role

Jordan Romano and Erik Swanson are expected to start the season on the IL. Yikes. And very quickly, Toronto’s bullpen looks quite thin. The Jays will presumably bump Chad Green and Tim Mayza into setup roles, but Yimi García deserves the ninth-inning role. No platoons; just Yimi.
García allowed 9.1 H/9 in 2023 (which is bad) but dropped his FIP to 3.39 (an improvement over ’22), and his 10.8 K/9 tied a career-high, excluding the 2020 shortened season. At 33 years old, the right-hander has the most high-leverage experience in the ‘pen and has 18 playoff appearances under his belt.
García’s sinker and four-seam velocities also either tied or exceeded career-highs last year. His stuff has too much sizzle for him to handle the closer role. Time to scheme up some entrance music.

The bench rotation is set

The Blue Jays front office did Santiago Espinal a favour by shipping him to Cincinnati on March 20 for a minor-league pitcher rather than optioning him to Triple-A. It became clear early in spring that the 29-year-old wouldn’t have a spot after a weak 2023 season (0.5 bWAR).
Now Espinal yields his spot to Ernie Clement, who produced an .885 OPS in 50 at-bats last season. Clement is one of the most underrated players on the roster. He’s an above-average defender, a respectable contact hitter, and he gels well in the clubhouse, especially with pal Davis Schneider.
Daniel Vogelbach also earned his spot with an .884 OPS in spring training. He’ll platoon exclusively against right-handers, and if he struggles, Toronto likely won’t think twice about a DFA.

Late start will test Votto’s commitment

After one shiny spring at-bat, Joey Votto has a long road ahead. He’ll likely remain in extended spring training until that biting ankle heals up. From there, a trip to Buffalo is in the cards.
So, just how badly does the 40-year-old want it? Well, apparently, pretty badly. Based on his sassy social media jabber, Votto wants just one more crack at the bigs, and I believe him. Between his .689 OPS season in 2022 and his 24-game rehab stint in 2023, he’s had tons of opportunities to hang ‘em up over the last few seasons. He ain’t ready yet.
Mr. Votto has spent plenty of time on minor-league diamonds over the last few seasons. All his reps will be about getting his body and timing right, so there will be no angst about results. When he’s ready, he’ll hopefully get the call, and Jays fans can enjoy whatever he has left to give.

Kirk must be a sparkplug

Consider Alejandro Kirk the bridge from the meat of the order to the lower-impact guys. Usually, he enters the season with mid-level expectations: some pop, some OBP, but probably not a perennial cleanup guy. In ’22, he boosted himself to a clean-up role. In ’23, he fell back to the 7-8-9 territory, though he was often asked to do more.
This year, Kirk needs to carry his 1.074 OPS from spring to the regular season. Obviously, power is key here. Say what you want about Vladdy Guerrero or George Springer; I’d argue Kirk was Toronto’s most frustrating hitter last year, simply because he had such trouble lifting the ball.
Groundball Kirk is a useless Kirk. The 25-year-old has such elite zone control skills that even a low .400 slugging percentage or a 15-homer season will make him one of Toronto’s most impactful hitters in 2024.

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

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