Sunday's situation may have been a rarity, as starter Marco Estrada lasted just 3 2/3 innings before giving way to six relievers over the next seven innings, but heavy use of the bullpen has become a regular practice.
Toronto entered Sunday ranked second in the American League in innings (323), as well as strikeouts (358) and relief wins (18). Saturday's starter, Francisco Liriano, lasted just two-plus innings before Estrada put the bullpen back in a tight spot the following day.
Estrada almost didn't make it out of the first inning, with wavering command that led to a three-run, 36-pitch frame. Gibbons went to the mound to talk to Estrada, while Joe Biagini warmed up, but didn't make a move. Pulling Estrada that early would've only increased the burden on the bullpen.
"That did cross my mind. 'Are you pulling me out already?'" Estrada said. "But you know, we talked a little bit, he told me what he wanted to tell me and it kind of got me going."
Estrada got going until the fourth, when Gibbons went out to see him for the last time. In came Ryan Tepera and then Biagini, who combined to pitch 3 1/3 scoreless innings. Danny Barnes was next, and he allowed a solo shot to J.D. Martinez to tie the game in the eighth. Barnes gave way to Roberto Osuna, who has gone 12 2/3 innings without allowing a run. Jeff Beliveau came in to face just two batters in the 11th, but his leadoff walk turned into the winning run off Lucas Harrell, who walked Miguel Cabrera with the bases loaded.
"It's tough to ask your bullpen to go five clean innings there at the end," Gibbons said. "They swing it over there. It's a tough lineup to face and they keep coming after you."
Toronto needed 15 2/3 innings from its bullpen in the three-game series against Detroit. All eight relievers pitched at least once, while four threw twice. The mixed results were highlighted by Osuna's continued hot streak and Biagini tossing two scoreless outings, including an escape from a two-on, none-out jam Sunday by retiring Justin Upton and doubling up Cabrera.
Frustration and fatigue were likely involved in Gibbons' quick dismissal of questions about his bullpen situation. His team, having slipped to a series loss against the Tigers, now looks at four straight games against the AL East-leading Red Sox. That said, Gibbons had no roster move planned to possibly assist a bullpen that worked overtime this weekend.
"We'll see, we'll see," he said. "The blood's not dry yet. Don't even know."