Janssen still working his way back from surgery
Closer has yet to face batters but hopes to be ready when Opening Day arrives
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Despite what many people originally predicted, there won't be a closer's controversy for the Blue Jays at this year's Spring Training.
Right-hander Casey Janssen has the support of the organization and is firmly entrenched in the role following a successful 2012 season. The question isn't if Janssen will be the closer, but when.
Janssen is currently working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery, and while progress has been made, it's still a little too early to say if he'll be ready for Opening Day.
"Realistically, to get him to start the season, he needs to be able to go back-to-back days," pitching coach Pete Walker said. "When we bring him up to Toronto and he's pitching in front of 50,000 people, the expectations are high, the team's ready to go. He wants to be 100 percent. We don't want to put him in the situation where it's a struggle for the first week or two."
Janssen underwent surgery in November to repair lingering joint soreness in his right shoulder. The procedure is relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, but it still requires a recovery time that spans several months.
As a result, Janssen has yet to face batters in Spring Training and isn't expected to do so for at least another week. The goal is to have him ready for Grapefruit League games by the second week of March, which should still provide him with enough time to break camp with the team.
The problem is, that schedule could change at any moment's notice. Janssen is currently throwing on the side every three days, and if there are any setbacks, then his status for the start of the regular season immediately will be put into danger.
"Am I a little bit behind? Yes," Janssen admitted. "Have I always been a couple of weeks early champing at the bit to get out of Spring Training? Yes.
"There are guys that are ready and can't wait to get out of here, and then there are guys -- this year myself -- who [are] like, 'All right, I'm going to use every single day.' And I don't want to say can't go slow enough, but I'm going to use every single day and get this thing right."
There was some school of thought that Janssen would be pushed for the closer's job by Sergio Santos. Instead, Santos will represent a Plan B and is expected to spend most of the year in a setup role.
That should take a lot of pressure off Janssen and it's a luxury which hasn't been afforded to him in the past. In 2011, he had to compete just to win a spot on the club. Last year, a job was guaranteed, but his exact role wasn't certain.
That's not the case this year, as both general manager Alex Anthopoulos and manager John Gibbons are on record saying Janssen is their guy. That seems only fair considering the veteran reliever took over for the struggling Francisco Cordero in 2012 and went on to record 22 saves in 25 opportunities with a 2.54 ERA in 63 2/3 innings.
Janssen's calming presence in the ninth-inning role was something Toronto hadn't experienced since the days of B.J. Ryan. In 2010, Kevin Gregg was erratic at best, only to be followed by Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch, who contributed to the Blue Jays tying for the league lead in blown saves last season.
With the job security intact, Janssen can set his sights on being ready for the season as opposed to pushing things too early in an effort to beat out one of his competitors.
"In year's past, I've come out and just had to be really, really good from my first pitch," Janssen said, "but this [coaching staff] knows what I can do. It's just a matter of getting healthy and using that time to peak in April and carry it on through.
"I think what drives me is my competitiveness, so it's not like I'm just going to go through the motions. I want to perform well even in Spring Training, but having Gibby back definitely helps with him knowing me. I know him and I'm not living and dying with every outing in Spring Training."
Janssen will never know for sure, but a contributing factor to his injury last season likely stemmed from overuse. Toronto's bullpen was somewhat of a disaster in 2012, and former manager John Farrell had no choice but to heavily lean on Janssen, Darren Oliver and Jason Frasor.
The same problem shouldn't occur this season. With the return of Santos and Oliver combined with the likes of Steve Delabar and Esmil Rogers, there is now an appropriate amount of pitching depth.
"We have a lot of quality arms," Janssen said. "We have arms that can pitch late in games. We can be comfortable with them late in games. It will give Gibby a ton of options, and then I say this a lot, but if these starters do what they've done, it's going to take a lot off of us and keep everybody fresh and we pitch to our roles.
"I'm excited to see these starters work, because I know the impact a great rotation has on a bullpen. When guys are healthy in the 'pen, they don't make as many mistakes, and it just runs smooth."