Blue Jays' closer competition may be a two-horse race

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Scott Downs headshot.jpgWe’ve been under the impression that Kevin Gregg, Jason Frasor and Scott Downs were all competing for the closer role in Toronto, and that may still be the case, but according to what Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston told Jordan Bastian of MLB.com on Wednesday, Downs’ odds of winning the job may have been downgraded ever so slightly:

“I’ve got a feeling that Scott, he’ll pitch anywhere you want him to
pitch,” Gaston said. “He’s not going to be upset if he’s closing or not
closing. If he turns out to be the better guy, then you’ll use him, but
he’s just the type where he’s going to come in to pitch and do whatever
you want him to do.

True to Gaston’s point, Downs has been a pretty dominant set-up man over the past few seasons. He only emerged as the Jays’ closer after B.J. Ryan hit the disabled list last season. And he performed quite ably in that job, too. Unfortunately, an injury to his left toe pretty much doomed him after the end of June.  

All three pitchers threw a scoreless inning of relief on the board against the Orioles on Wednesday. Gregg, who was signed to a one-year, $2.75 million contract in early February, was the early favorite to win the closer’s job as camp opened, but for what it’s worth, Bastian believes Frasor is the front-runner.
 

Kendrys Morales pitched a scoreless inning Sunday

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Nothing went right for the Blue Jays this weekend. The club was swept in a four-game series against the Athletics, including a 9-2 loss on Sunday. Not wanting to burn out his bullpen in a lopsided game — and perhaps thinking about the general entertainment value involved — Blue Jays manager John Gibbons decided to send designated hitter Kendrys Morales out to pitch the ninth inning. And in typical baseball fashion, he saw better results than some of the dudes who do this all the time.

Morales, who actually pitched in Cuba nearly 20 years ago, worked around a walk for a scoreless inning. He induced three fly outs and topped out at 87.4 mph on his fastball, per Brooks Baseball. He received a standing ovation on the way back to the dugout. Morales hasn’t been hearing that sort of thing for his contributions with the bat recently.

Morales, 34, is batting just .163/.248/.279 with three home runs through 32 games this season. There’s been some understandable clamoring for top prospect Vladmir Guerrero, Jr. to cut into his at-bats. For his part, Morales has been doing everything he can to break out of his slumber at the plate, including ditching the glasses he started wearing during spring training. Hey, whatever works. Morales also had two of Toronto’s four hits on Sunday.

On the heels of Morales’ first MLB appearance on the mound, it feels rather appropriate that the Blue Jays will get their first look at Angels sensation Shohei Ohtani — at least as a hitter — beginning on Tuesday.