The last time Ryan Tepera took the mound for the Toronto Blue Jays, Jonathan Davis was leading off and Edwin Jackson was the starter.
He returned to a completely different Blue Jays club on Monday, a far more exciting team with a competitive future that’s getting easier and easier to imagine.
Tepera could be part of that future, albeit probably in a modest capacity. He’s 31 and only under contract for two more seasons, but the Blue Jays are awfully low on established relievers they can bank on for 2020, let alone 2021. The Texan is no star, but he’s someone you can pencil in when healthy. After all, coming into this season he was supposed to be the primary setup man to Ken Giles.
In a 6-3 Toronto loss on Monday, he looked like a guy who could re-earn that role.
Tepera’s outing got off to an inauspicious start. The first man he faced was Rafael Ortega, who got just missed home runs on consecutive foul balls and then earned himself a walk.
Even when he tallied his first strikeout - getting Charlie Culberson to whiff on a sinker inside - it came at the cost of a steal from Ortega.
Tepera then immediately tried to pick off the outfielder and threw the ball right into centre field.
At that point it looked like Tepera may have been rusty or dealing with jitters after spending so much time away from an MLB mound. Worse yet for the Blue Jays, he now had a runner on third base with just one out and two stars - Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies - coming to the plate in a one-run game.
Tepera masterfully peppered the high outside corner against Acuna, bringing him to a 2-2 count. He finished the electric leadoff man with a fastball just off the corner.
He kept attacking the top of the zone against Albies. The second baseman was ultimately fooled on a cutter down the middle Tepera got away with.
Any scoreless inning with three strikeouts goes in the “encouraging” pile, but realistically we’re talking about a single inning. More important than how well Tepera did, was how good his stuff looked.
The right-hander attacked primarily with hard stuff, as usual, and there was clearly good action on both his sinker and four-seamer. The velocity was also there. His four-seamer came in at 93.8 mph, right near his season average of 93.4, while his sinker clocked in at 93.4, spitting difference from his average of 93.7. As indications that he’s healthy go, those velocity readings are pretty positive.
Even the best and healthiest version of Tepera isn’t going to be a star for the Blue Jays. Aside from the front end of the rotation, they may already have their stars, though. What this team needs more of is reliable cogs.
Tepera - who’d been completely out of sight and mind as recently as few days ago - just served up a reminder that he could be one of those guys.
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