Gibbons says Jays in “good spot,” but need healthy Romano

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*Watch Stu Stone’s full interview with John Gibbons for the former Toronto Blue Jays manager’s weekly “Talking Points” feature, sponsored by Bodog Canada, by clicking on the video above.

May 20, 2022

By Kevin Glew

Cooperstowners in Canada.

John Gibbons has heard the baseball stats gurus who insist that any pitcher can close a game with the right match-up.

“That’s been a big argument forever, especially when the analytics started to become front and centre . . . and that’s BS,” Gibbons told Stu Stone for the latest episode of Talking Points, sponsored by Bodog Canada.

The former Jays skipper says that philosophy too easily dismisses what’s in a player’s head and their heart. Much of the closer’s role is mental, says Gibbons. They must be able to thrive in pressure-packed situations and shrug off blown saves.

That’s why Markham, Ont., native Jordan Romano’s absence from the Blue Jays’ bullpen since last Saturday due to a gastrointestinal illness was so concerning. Fortunately, Romano told reporters today that he’s feeling much better and will be available for the Blue Jays’ series opener against the Cincinnati Reds tonight at Rogers Centre.

With Romano’s return, everything seems to be falling into place for the Blue Jays’ pitching staff. The starting rotation has been a strength for the club even during their May struggles. Kevin Gausman and Alek Manoah have had All-Star worthy starts to their seasons and Jose Berrios is slowly rounding into his ace-like form. And to the delight of manager Charlie Montoyo and pitching coach Pete Walker, Yusei Kikuchi, their No. 5 starter, has had three straight excellent starts and has lowered his ERA to 3.38 this season.

“You look at the teams that win it all and they have depth in that rotation,” Gibbons told Stone. “People always talk about it and it’s true you have to have that No. 1 type guy to go up against the other teams. And the best teams have those. But on down the line, you have to have some good quality guys and you have to have depth.”

It was also encouraging for the Blue Jays that veteran lefty Hyun Jin Ryu allowed just one run in 4 2/3 innings last Saturday in his first start after close to a month on the injured list with forearm soreness. Ryu, who relies more on guile and location than velocity, had struggled mightily in April, posting a 13.50 ERA in two starts.

“Usually what happens, especially [with] that type of pitcher [like Ryu], when there is something going on in there [in their arm], whether it’s soreness . . . it’s usually your command that goes first because now you’ve got to gear it up a little bit harder just to maintain what your normal is,” shared Gibbons about Ryu’s early season struggles.

Now with all the pieces seemingly in place for the pitching staff, the Blue Jays’ offence, which was expected to be their strength but is hitting a collective .234, needs to heat up, and Gibbons thinks it will.

“I think it’s big getting Teoscar [Hernandez] back,” said Gibbons.

The ex-skipper believes that despite their May struggles, the Blue Jays, with their 20-18 record heading into Friday’s action, are in a “good spot.”

“Things will definitely get better because the pitching is too good. The offence is too good,” he said.

Gibbons on the Big Red Machine, Hendriks and the Leafs

One of the best things about Gibbons’ Talking Points interviews with Stu Stone are listening to his memories. Here are a few of them from the latest episode:

On the Cincinnati Reds:

“Actually that used to be my team growing up because they had Johnny Bench and those guys . . . the Big Red Machine, Concepcion . . . Griffey.”

On Liam Hendriks, who pitched for Gibbons on the Blue Jays in 2014 and 2015 and is now the closer of the White Sox:

“Liam pitched for us and Liam was always . . . a great kid, but kind of nutty . . . and now I watch him every time he closes a game. And it’s like they’re going to put him in the insane asylum . . . But he’s got kind of the perfect makeup for that [closer’s role] because he lets things go.”

On the Toronto Maple Leafs:

“I’m a novice hockey guy, I really became fascinated with the sport while I was up there. I didn’t really know anything about it but the toughness, the competitiveness and the passion that the Canadian fans have . . . It’s tough guy’s sport, you know. So I really like that. Baseball can be kind of a soft sport. Sometimes you get some candy asses. I’ll put it that way . . . Hockey you can’t do that. So that always thrilled me. I followed the history of the Leafs and it was like they were snake-bitten. But they’ve got some really good players. And I think I felt like everyone else that they were going to get over the hump this year.”

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