Toronto's relievers racking up innings early

Toronto's relievers racking up innings early

BALTIMORE -- The Blue Jays' bullpen has been pressed into action a lot more than the club would have liked through the first 20 games of the season.

Toronto's relief corps entered play on Tuesday night leading the American League with 72 1/3 innings. The bullpen also ranks sixth in strikeouts (60) and seventh in ERA (3.24).

The bullpen was expected by many critics to be a weakness on the club, but so far, it has turned into a strength despite being at least somewhat overworked.

"Right now, we're managing to keep them all fresh," manager John Gibbons said. "We haven't pushed anybody too many times, but you're always concerned about that.

"I like our bullpen, too. So if there's an opportunity to use them, we're not afraid to do that. But, yeah, they're all getting plenty of work, that's for sure."

The main reason for the extended innings was that the starting rotation got off to a slow start this year. That has begun to change, but the Blue Jays have received seven innings in a game only twice.

Left-hander Mark Buehrle tossed seven innings on April 20 vs. the White Sox; right-hander Josh Johnson followed the next day with seven strong innings against the Yankees.

That has resulted in several Blue Jays relievers ranking among the league leaders in innings pitched entering Tuesday's game against the Orioles. The most prominent include right-hander Steve Delabar being ranked third in the AL (12 2/3 innings) while Esmil Rogers is tied for ninth (10 2/3 innings).

One thing Gibbons is trying to keep an eye on is how many times his relievers are being asked to throw more than one inning. Delabar has gone multiple innings on five occasions this year and Rogers on four.

"It depends on how that one inning goes," Gibbons said. "That first inning will kind of dictate that.

"We have enough guys out there that are really good. When game's on the line, they can get some big outs for you. They know how to pitch in those situations, they've done it before. The good thing is we have so many different guys we can go to at different times. Otherwise, it could get really tough."

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.