STRIKE ZONE

Blue Jays GM Atkins ex­pects fur­ther great­ness from closer Osuna next sea­son ... Gibbons happy for An­thopou­los ... Toronto could be mak­ing a move for Cain

Winnipeg Sun - - SPORTS -

CLEAR­WA­TER, Fla. — Blue Jays gen­eral man­ager Ross Atkins firmly be­lieves that too many peo­ple were closed­minded about the club’s closer Roberto Osuna last sea­son and may have pushed the panic but­ton pre­ma­turely.

In many ways, Osuna had a great year. He was added to the all-star game, tied for fourth in MLB in saves

(39) and be­came the first player in fran­chise his­tory to record back-to-back sea­sons with at least 35 saves.

All at the age of 22. How­ever, Osuna also led the bigs in blown saves, with 10, and missed some time mid-sea­son with undis­closed anx­i­ety is­sues. He also left the team for a spell near the end of the sea­son to re­turn to his na­tive Mex­ico be­cause he had just be­come a fa­ther.

Atkins feels the blown saves and the anx­i­ety is­sues were overblown and he fully ex­pects Osuna to blos­som again in 2018.

“You know it’s in­ter­est­ing about Roberto,” Atkins said. “He had a great year, he had one of the bet­ter years of all the re­liev­ers in baseball and I think a lot of at­ten- tion got placed on the blown saves and a lot of at­ten­tion got placed on the dis­cus­sions in and around the game he didn’t pitch in Kansas City.

“But if you look at the strike­outs, the lack of walks, the lack of hits, he’s such a re­mark­able late-in­ning, elite re­liever that ... man, we’re very glad he’s here.

“We’re very glad he’s a Toronto Blue Jay and ex­tremely ex­cited about his fu­ture.”

Atkins is hes­i­tant to get into Osuna’s anx­i­ety is­sues but be­lieves he will be in a bet­ter place next year.

“It’s an un­com­fort­able topic, es­pe­cially when you’re talk­ing to thou­sands, mil­lions of peo­ple (via the me­dia),” Atkins said, adding that Osuna had some dif­fi­culty get­ting his feel­ings across as his com­mand of English is still an on-go­ing process.

“When you talk about a word like anx­i­ety, and you’re speak­ing in your sec­ond lan­guage, some­times things can be mis­in­ter­preted and mis­con­strued. But we are ab­so­lutely 100% con­fi­dent that Roberto Osuna is in an in­cred­i­ble men­tal state, in­cred­i­ble phys­i­cal state and in a great over­all mind­set to con­tinue to be an elite pro­fes­sional pitcher.”

GIBBY SUP­PORTS AA

Jays man­ager John Gibbons was happy to hear that his friend and for­mer boss Alex An­thopou­los has landed on his feet again as an MLB gen­eral man­ager. The At­lanta Braves for­mally an­nounced the sign­ing on Mon­day. An­thopou­los re-hired Gibbons as the Jays man­ager in 2012.

“It’s a great move for the Braves,” Gibbons told the Toronto Sun. “The per­fect guy to get them rolling. He has a great baseball mind and is very ag­gres­sive.”

The talk go­ing around the GM meet­ings in Orlando this week is that when the Jays even­tu­ally fire San An­to­nio na­tive Gibbons — vir­tu­ally all man­agers get fired even­tu­ally — he’ll have a land­ing spot in At­lanta.

Gibbons, of course, wouldn’t wade into that con­ver­sa­tion.

JAYS AF­TER CAIN?

Jerry Cras­nick of ESPN. com re­ported on Tues­day that the Jays are mak­ing a play for Kansas City Roy­als out­fielder Lorenzo Cain, ar­guably the top cen­tre fielder on the open mar­ket.

The 31-year-old Cain is a good de­fen­sive out­fielder with speed on the base paths (the lat­ter an at­tribute the Jays des­per­ately need) com­ing off a sea­son in which he slashed .300/.363/.440 with 15 home runs and 49 RBI while play­ing a ca­reer-high 155 games for the Roy­als.

In his eight sea­sons with Kansas City, he has posted a .290/.342/.421 slash line and was an all-star in 2015, the year he helped the club win the World Se­ries and also fin­ished third in the AL MVP vot­ing.

Atkins said again this week that the Jays are hop­ing to add to their out­field with the loss of Jose Bautista af­ter the 2017 sea­son. The present out­field con­sists of Kevin Pil­lar, Steve Pearce, Eze­quiel Car­rera and pos­si­bly Teoscar Her­nan­dez and/or An­thony Al­ford.

AP

Cen­tre fielder Lorenzo Cain won a World Se­ries with the Roy­als in 2015. Cain, who is a free agent, hit .300, drove in 49 runs in 155 games last sea­son.

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