Prior to the 2006 season, the Blue Jays signed Ryan to a five-year contract worth $47 million to be their closer, representing the largest deal signed by a reliever at the time. The left-hander was an All-Star and saved 38 games in his first season with Toronto, but he has struggled with injury and inconsistency in the years since.
During this past Spring Training, there were concerns about a drop in Ryan's velocity -- an issue that improved by the season's onset. Once the regular season began, though, Ryan labored with his command, posting an 11.12 ERA with five walks across 5 2/3 innings before being placed on the 15-day DL with muscle tightness.
Ryan saved 32 games last season after missing most of the 2007 campaign due to season-ending Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his left elbow that May. Throughout this past spring, Ryan said he was completely healthy, citing mechanical problems for his issues on the mound. Ryan even removed himself from Team USA's roster for the World Baseball Classic to focus on his delivery.
Now, during his Minor League rehab stint with Dunedin, Ryan is once again adjusting his mechanics. Rick Langford, Toronto's roving rehab and pitching coach, has been working with the reliever on slowing down his delivery. The Blue Jays feel this change can potentially help Ryan regain more consistent results.
"He was getting a little bit ahead of himself," Ricciardi said. "We'll just try to rework his delivery a little bit. He's always been a guy that's charged out, but Rick Langford has been working with him down there and Rick has said good things about him. Hopefully we'll get him back here."
In three rehab appearances with Dunedin, Ryan has allowed one run on one hit with two strikeouts and one walk over three innings, limiting hitters to a .111 average. He has been pitching every other day, with his most recent outing coming on Monday. In that appearance, Ryan struck out two and faced only three batters.
Those are the kind of results the Blue Jays hope to keep seeing.
"Hopefully he's going to get back to where we need him to be and come back and help this club," Gaston said. "We want to see him throw strikes. We want him to see him have some control over where he's throwing the ball. If he can do that, that's fine."
Even if Ryan is doing that, though, the closer's job will remain in Downs' hands for now. Since taking over for Ryan, Downs has saved three games and has recorded seven strikeouts and one walk over 7 2/3 innings. Downs has allowed three runs over that span, but that lapse came during a non-save situation against the A's on Saturday.
"Downs hasn't done anything to give up that role right now," Gaston said.
Ricciardi noted that Ryan could "conceivably" return during the club's current homestand, which consists of a three-game series against the Yankees and a four-game set against the White Sox, ending Monday. It is not clear what role will be given to Ryan, who is scheduled to make $20 million through 2010.
"I don't know," Ricciardi said. "We'll have to see how it plays out. Maybe it's a role where he pitches the sixth, the seventh or the eighth. I don't know. Ultimately, the role will be determined by the situation."