Jays holding Ryan out of games
Toronto closer may not be ready to go by Opening Day
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- B.J. Ryan's goal of returning to the Blue Jays' bullpen in time for Opening Day may have been a little too optimistic. With less than two weeks remaining in the spring slate, Toronto has decided to hold its recovering closer out of games for the time being.
Following a one-inning outing on Monday, Ryan complained of some minor soreness in the forearm and biceps of his throwing arm. The Blue Jays are describing the discomfort as normal fatigue, but the club wants to take a cautious approach with Ryan, who had Tommy John reconstruction surgery on his left elbow in May.
That being the case, the prospect of having Ryan break camp as a part of Toronto's Opening Day bullpen appears doubtful. On Thursday, Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said the team doesn't want to bring Ryan north with the rest of the relief corps unless the pitcher is fully capable of returning to a regular role.
"We're not going to take him unless he can be B.J.," Ricciardi said, "where we use him three or four times a week. If he can't do that, then we'll just let him stay down here, let him keep pitching and eventually he'll be ready at some point. When he's ready, we'll take him."
"For us to sit here and say he was going to be here on Opening Day," he added later, "we never threw that date out there, and I don't think it was fair to him to throw that date out there. I think it's important that he just keeps getting better and he feels good."
Ricciardi said Ryan will continue to throw on flat ground, but there's no timetable as to when the left-hander might appear in his next Grapefruit League game. Ryan said that he hopes to throw off a mound in the bullpen on Friday, but he will wait to see how his arm feels when he arrives at the ballpark.
"We'll just push it back a day or so and see how it goes," Ryan said. "It's just a little soreness and it's still early. I'm not trying to do too much, too fast. Like I've said the whole time, we're going to be smart about it.
"You set a goal," he added, "but sometimes you can do everything you want to do and sometimes you're going to hit a little bump in the path. ... You don't do something for 10 months and you come back and kind of get after it for a couple days in a row, it'll flare up.
"It's nothing to worry about. It's not a huge step backwards."
Toronto waited until this past Friday to have the 32-year-old Ryan -- signed to a five-year contract worth $47 million prior to the 2006 season -- appear in his first spring game. Ryan reported no issues after that one-inning affair against the Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla., and he rested two days before taking the mound again.
On Monday, Ryan turned in one shutout inning against the Pirates in Bradenton, Fla., but he said he felt sore after the appearance. Jays bullpen coach Bruce Walton said Ryan went through his normal throwing routine on Tuesday, throwing on flat ground and in a long-toss session, without any unusual soreness.
Even so, Ricciardi discussed the matter with Ryan and Toronto's medical staff, and decided that having the pitcher skip his scheduled appearance against the Yankees on Thursday was the best course of action. Ricciardi said the team trainers and doctors don't believe Ryan's soreness to be anything more than fatigue.
"He's a little sore, so we're going to back him off a little bit," Ricciardi said. "He's still throwing -- he's just got regular soreness from throwing. So we're just going to watch him. He's done really well. He's come a long way.
"We said all along, 'Day-to-day and we'll just see how it progresses,'" he added. "If he can break with us, that'd be great. If he can't, then we'll just get him ready for when he's able to really come and be able to help us."
Ryan, who posted a 1.37 ERA and saved 38 games in his first tour with the Blue Jays in 2006, exited a game against the Tigers in Toronto on April 14 last season due to the elbow injury. On May 10, Dr. Timothy Kremchek performed the reconstructive surgery on Ryan, meaning the pitcher would be less than a year removed from the operation if he returned by Opening Day.
While Ryan was sidelined last year, right-hander Jeremy Accardo slid into the closer's role and finished with 30 saves. When Ryan is back in the fold, Accardo projects to be Toronto's primary setup man. Even if Ryan does break camp with the team, Jays manager John Gibbons has said the closer wouldn't appear on consecutive days.
This spring, Ryan has been on a three-day throwing program, meaning he's had two off-days sandwiched between appearances. Ryan said he won't feel comfortable rejoining the bullpen if he has to remain on that type of schedule in April.
"Do I think I can help this team? Yeah," Ryan said. "But I can't help them if I need two days off in between [outings]. I mean, that's selfish and that's something I'm not going to do. If I can pitch, and then maybe have an off-day and pitch, or something like that, but then again, that's not my call."
The fact that Accardo has the ability to handle the ninth-inning role could have the Jays leaning toward keeping Ryan on a throwing program in Florida at the season's onset. Ricciardi wasn't willing to speculate on that possibility, but he repeatedly noted that Toronto wants to have Ryan back in the mix when he's healthy enough to pitch multiple times per week.
"If we have him for six months, great," Ricciardi said. "If we have him for five months, great. Four months, whatever we have him for, we're going to make sure we have him right. We can't have him with us right now if he pitches on Monday and we have to wait until Saturday to use him again.
"He knows that and he understands that. Another month maybe [until he's completely healthy]? Or a couple weeks? I don't know. We'll see how it goes."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.