Ryan hoping to regain pinpoint control

Ryan hoping to regain pinpoint control

PHILADELPHIA -- Cito Gaston didn't hesitate for a second earlier this week when asked who would be filling in for injured closer Scott Downs. For the Blue Jays manager, there was only one logical answer.

"Right now, I'm kind of looking at [Jason] Frasor," Gaston said.

Gaston quickly added that right-hander Brandon League and left-hander Jesse Carlson could see time in the ninth inning on days Frasor needs rest. The one name Gaston didn't mention was that of left-hander B.J. Ryan, who was handed a large contract to serve as Toronto's closer, but lost the job to Downs earlier this season.

Ryan's return to form continues to be a work in progress for the Blue Jays, who placed Downs on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained big toe on Thursday. On the one hand, Ryan has not allowed a run in nine consecutive appearances. On the other, the veteran left-hander has still labored with his pitch command while on the hill.

Take Wednesday night, for example. With the Blue Jays holding a comfortable, 7-1, lead in the ninth inning, Gaston sent Ryan to the mound against the Phillies. Ryan allowed one hit and issued two walks with one out to load the bases. Having seen enough, Gaston pulled the lefty from the game and turned to League, who retired the next two hitters to bail Ryan out.

Gaston said Ryan's issue continues to be location.

"It's not so much his velocity," Gaston said. "He doesn't have any control. From what I hear, he throws the ball pretty good in the bullpen. When he gets on the mound, he's been a bit off. We could really use him, especially now with Downs gone. Hopefully he gets better."

During Ryan's last nine appearances, which included 6 2/3 innings, he has allowed four hits and issued five walks, throwing strikes at a 56-percent rate. On Wednesday against Philadelphia, Ryan used 17 pitches and threw only six strikes to the four hitters he faced. It was a showing that did nothing to help Ryan's cause.

On Thursday, the Blue Jays had a save situation in the ninth inning of an 8-7 win over the Phillies. Gaston sent Ryan -- one of two pitchers remaining in the bullpen -- to the mound to open the frame. Ryan walked the first batter he faced and then struck out Phillies slugger Ryan Howard. At that point, Gaston pulled Ryan from the game and turned to right-hander Jeremy Accardo.

Since returning from a stay on the DL in May after a bout with a left shoulder issue, though, Ryan has shown improvement. In 15 appearances, he has posted a 3.09 ERA, limiting batters to a .250 average. Prior to being sidelined, Ryan opened the season with an 11.12 ERA and a .364 opponents' batting average in six games.

Even with the better showing, Gaston isn't ready to hand the closer's role back to Ryan, who is in the fourth season under the five-year, $47 million contract he signed with Toronto prior to the 2006 season. Ryan is scheduled to make $10 million this year and next.

While Ryan has been inconsistent this year, Frasor has proved to be one of the Jays' more reliable options. With a sharp slider, a hard fastball and an impressive splitter-changeup hybrid, Frasor has gone 5-0 with a 1.88 ERA through 26 games, in which he has piled up 19 strikeouts, issued just three walks and held batters to a .198 average. Frasor also saved 17 games as a rookie for the Jays in 2004.

Pitching matchup
TOR: LHP Brian Tallet (4-4, 4.87 ERA)
In 12 turns as a starter this season, Tallet has gone 4-4 with a 4.73 ERA.

WSH: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (2-3, 5.37 ERA)
Zimmerman has gone 1-2 with a 4.85 ERA in five starts at home this year.

Bird feed
The Blue Jays are the only team in the American League to have two pitchers taken in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft (Brett Cecil and Brad Mills) reach the Majors. ... Toronto has had four starting pitchers (Ricky Romero, Robert Ray, Cecil and Mills) make their big league debuts this season, tying a club record that was first set in 1977. ... Entering Thursday, the Blue Jays ranked first in the Majors with 658 hits -- 22 more than the second-ranked Rays. Toronto second baseman Aaron Hill paced the Majors with 90 hits. ... The Jays led the Majors with a 148 doubles, entering Thursday. Left fielder Adam Lind was tied for the American League lead with 22 two-base hits. ... In the third inning on Thursday, shortstop Marco Scutaro pulled off a rare feat. After drawing a walk to open the frame, Scutaro kept running and stole second base on the play.

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Up next
• Saturday: Blue Jays (Brett Cecil, 2-1, 4.38) at Nationals (Ross Detwiler, 0-3, 5.23), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Blue Jays (Ricky Romero, 3-3, 3.73) at Nationals (Shairon Martis, 5-1, 4.76), 1:35 p.m. ET
• Monday: Off-day

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.