Jeffress' struggles complicate bullpen competition

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Blue Jays still have to make at least one tough decision on their bullpen with less than two weeks to go until Opening Day.

Toronto has a pair of jobs up for grabs, but with left-hander Aaron Loup as the clear-cut favorite for one of those spots, the other candidates appear to be battling it out for the long-reliever role.

Right-hander Jeremy Jeffress made his latest audition in a 6-5 loss to the Orioles, but did little to separate himself from the rest of the pack. Jeffress surrendered three solo home runs and walked a pair of batters over two innings of work Wednesday, when he started and was scheduled to throw three innings.

"I'm just leaving it all up to them and I'm just focusing on playing the game," Jeffress said. "If they pick a spot -- long relief, one inning -- it's up to them. I'm just going out there, doing my best and trying to get the hitters out.

"I'm capable of doing it, and if they need me to do it, I will do it. I'm not set on one or two innings, I'm ready to throw as many innings as I can. I'd love to throw as many innings as I can."

Despite Jeffress' rough outing, he still remains very much in the mix thanks to a relatively strong spring. He entered play against the Orioles having surrendered just three runs in eight innings and appears to be neck-and-neck with left-hander Brett Cecil for the final spot in Toronto's bullpen.

There has never been any debate about Jeffress' potential. He has the ability to throw in the upper-90s, and his powerful arsenal is one of the main reasons he was selected with the 16th overall pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.

The issue has been a lack of command. Jeffress has averaged seven walks per nine innings during parts of three seasons at the big league level, and that appears to be the one thing holding him back.

"He's electric," catcher J.P. Arencibia said. "Sometimes the ball is up. There were a couple of homers that were kind of windblown, but the only time he got hurt was when he was up.

"He can throw three pitches that are good. It's really just controlling that pitch in the bottom of the zone. If you make any pitch down in the zone, you're usually not going to get hurt."

Manager John Gibbons said there's no timetable for when a final decision will be made on the bullpen. In addition to Jeffress and Cecil, veteran Dave Bush and recently acquired Guillermo Moscoso are also candidates. Moscoso relieved Jeffress against the Orioles and also allowed three runs, throwing only an inning.

Bush is a somewhat surprise addition to the list, and while he remains a long shot, the 33-year-old has opened some eyes in camp. On an afternoon when the Blue Jays pitching staff struggled to get anybody out, it was Bush that came in to calm the storm, throwing three scoreless innings. He allowed three hits and walked one, striking out three.

"He knows what he's doing," Gibbons said. "He's not going to beat himself. He's going to throw strikes, and you know what you're going to get. He's still in the mix."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.