Wagner promoted to bolster Blue Jays' 'pen
Right-hander will fill middle-relief role; Walden sent to Triple-A Buffalo
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays added some more depth to the middle-relief section of their bullpen by recalling right-hander Neil Wagner from Triple-A Buffalo prior to Wednesday night's 7-3 win over the Astros.
To make room on the 25-man roster for Wagner, the Blue Jays optioned right-hander Marcus Walden to Buffalo. Walden had his contract selected by Toronto on Saturday, but had yet to appear in a game this season.
Toronto has been short a reliable middle reliever since the start of the season when closer Casey Janssen was placed on the 15-day disabled list. The Blue Jays still have Sergio Santos and Steve Delabar at the back end of their bullpen, but there was a need for another quality arm.
Wagner helped immediately fill that void by pitching two perfect innings and striking out three Astros. It was similar to what Wagner did a lot of last season when he gained the trust of manager John Gibbons by posting a 3.79 ERA in 38 innings.
"He came into his own, he started out in Triple-A and put it all together," Gibbons said of Wagner's performance last year. "Came up and did a nice job for us. He has that big arm, that's what you like to see coming late into a game. The key for him is, he started finding that strike zone consistently. That's something that had been deserting him in his career until last year. We expect him to fill a big role for us."
The need for another short-stint reliever was more apparent than the desire to add another pitcher that has the ability to throw multiple innings. Esmil Rogers and Todd Redmond are both capable of pitching in long relief and should go a long way in helping to eat up innings when a starter has to be removed early from the game.
Toronto's biggest weakness in the bullpen was having a quality pitcher to use in a tight ballgame. Gibbons typically likes to save Santos and Delabar for when the Blue Jays have the lead, but in the games where Toronto trailed by one or two runs late, there was an obvious need in middle relief.
A perfect example of that came during the Blue Jays' 7-2 loss to the Rays on April 3. Toronto was trailing by just two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning until Rogers surrendered a three-run homer to Evan Longoria, which put the game out of reach. That's now a spot when Wagner could enter in an effort to keep Toronto in the mix for a potential late rally.
"We have Redmond and Rogers to do [long relief] so it made sense to get a little more fire power late," Gibbons said.
Delabar exits after being hit on leg with liner
TORONTO -- Blue Jays right-hander Steve Delabar is considered day to day after being struck on the right leg by a line drive during the ninth inning of Wednesday's 7-3 win over the Astros.
Delabar was attempting to put the finishing touches on Toronto's victory when Jose Altuve hit a scorching liner up the middle. The ball hit Delabar on his right calf muscle and then ricocheted towards first base.
Blue Jays trainer George Poulis immediately ran onto the field, and within a few minutes, Delabar was removed from the game. He likely won't pitch in Thursday's series finale, but it does appear as though Delabar avoided any type of major injury.
"Just walking around here, it feels pretty good," Delabar said afterward. "I iced it for I don't know how long and I'm assuming it's going to be pretty sore tomorrow. But I asked George and he said 'if we needed you and we had to get you ready, we can get you ready.' But they're probably going to give me the day off [Thursday]."
The fact that Delabar's injury appears to be relatively minor will be welcome news considering the club is already without closer Casey Janssen, who is currently on the 15-day disabled list with a strained lower back.
The 30-year-old Delabar has allowed two runs in four innings of work this season. He is one of the primary setup men for temporary closer Sergio Santos at the back end of Toronto's bullpen.
"When you get hit square on the bone, you could have a fracture, you could have multiple things happen, and I'm lucky that it hit the muscle," Delabar said.
Izturis rises to No. 2 position in batting order
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays might have finally found their No. 2 hitter while Jose Reyes is out with a strained hamstring.
Toronto manager John Gibbons promoted Maicer Izturis to second in the order for Wednesday night's 7-3 win over the Astros. The veteran infielder responded by going 2-for-3 with an RBI and a walk, and he was one of the main catalysts on offense.
Izturis began the season in a platoon at second base with rookie Ryan Goins but all of a sudden it appears as though he will be getting the bulk of that workload. His spot in the two-hole also seems secure at least for now.
"Yeah, ride it," Gibbons said after the win. "Izzy's always been able to hit his whole career, he has been a good solid Major League player and he's hot right now. So ride it, ride it, ride it while it lasts. He's just a good baseball player and he's playing some pretty good second base, too."
Izturis now has multiple hits in all but two of his seven games this season. He leads the Blue Jays with a .455 average (10-for-22) and has been one of the biggest surprises this season following a disappointing 2013 campaign that saw him hit just .236 in 107 games.
The 33-year-old also appears more agile in the field and has displayed increased range up the middle. One key behind his turnaround could be the fact that he appears to be in much better shape than he was at this time last season.
Gibbons didn't want to get into specifics, but he alluded to that fact prior to Wednesday night's game.
"He came into camp in better shape this year, really focused, and he has done a nice job," Gibbons said. "He made a couple of nice plays [Tuesday] night at second base and that's good, too ... He just looks better this year."
With Izturis starting at second base against the Astros, Goins shifted over to shortstop while Jonathan Diaz was kept out of the lineup. Typically, the Blue Jays have gone with Diaz at shortstop and Izturis at second base vs. lefties, with Diaz at shortstop and Goins at second vs righties.
Lawrie shows good signs with first home run
TORONTO -- Brett Lawrie showed signs that he could be breaking out of his prolonged slump at the plate by hitting a two-run homer during Wednesday night's 7-3 victory over the Astros.
Lawrie entered the game with just three hits in 29 at-bats, but he finally began to see some positive signs later in the contest. It started with a hard-hit ground ball during the fourth inning and continued in the seventh when he sent a pitch over the wall in left for his first home run of the season.
It had to have been a major relief for the 24-year-old Lawrie, but after the game he was preaching patience and said he was never going to get carried away with a slow start to the season.
"It's a long year, we still have a 150 games, 140-something games left," Lawrie said. "So it is a long year and it's definitely not time to push the panic button. We've got a lot of ABs left, over 400 ABs left, maintain health and just keep trying to find a way to help the team win whether it's on defense or on offense. [I'm] just trying to help the boys."
Lawrie is one of the most intense players in the game and is the type of personality who can be extremely hard on himself when things aren't going well. That can lead to even more pressure than normal and often causes a player to dwell on the past instead of looking ahead.
Gibbons hasn't seen much of that frustration this year, though, which is something he is taking as a positive sign. According to Gibbons, Lawrie has taken a more mature approach which could help ensure his struggles don't continue to snowball throughout the season.
"I think he has been pretty composed [compared] to how Brett was in the past," Gibbons said. "So, I tip my hat to him, he has come a long way. But I'll tell you what, he has that fire in him, he's a great competitor so you know it's eating at him, but he is controlling his emotions, which is important."
• Janssen threw another bullpen session on Wednesday afternoon and said afterward that it "felt great." Janssen has been out since the start of the season with a strained lower back, but he is expected to join the Blue Jays at some point during their upcoming nine-game road trip. Janssen said he'll likely throw another bullpen session on Saturday and then could begin a rehab assignment consisting of one or two appearances.
• Shortstop Jose Reyes did some light running at Rogers Centre on Wednesday afternoon. He is expected to start running the bases this weekend, and once he's able to pick up the level of intensity, Reyes will then be sent out on a rehab assignment. Reyes is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list (strained hamstring) on April 16, but it's not immediately clear if he'll be ready by that date.