Jays bullpen taking on 'Nasty Boys' look

GM Alex Anthopoulos laughs when a Toronto reporter suggests the Blue Jays soon will unveil the 2011 version of The Nasty Boys with relievers Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel and Frank Francisco. If nothing else, rookie manager John Farrell will have plenty of bullpen options.

GM Anthopoulos excited about fireballers Rauch, Dotel, Francisco

Former Twins stopper Jon Rauch, shown here, will be part of a three-man battle with Octavio Dotel and Frank Francisco for the Blue Jays' closer job to start the 2011 season. ((Tom Olmscheid/Associated Press))

Alex Anthopoulos laughs when a Toronto reporter suggests the Blue Jays soon will unveil the 2011 version of The Nasty Boys with incoming relief pitchers Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel and Frank Francisco.

"If that were to be the case that would be very exciting," the Blue Jays general manager told CBCSports.ca during a conference call.

The 1990 Nasty Boys, a.k.a. the Cincinnati Reds trio of Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers, combined for 44 saves and 351 strikeouts, leading the team to a World Series title against Oakland.

Dibble actually considered The Nasty Boys to be a fivesome including Tim Layana and Tim Birtsas, so from a Blue Jays perspective you could also toss Jason Frasor and Shawn Camp into the mix.

Francisco is the latest addition to what has become a deep Toronto bullpen during the off-season. He arrives from Texas, where he converted 25 of 29 save chances for the Rangers in 2009 before losing the closer's role to Neftali Feliz early last season.

In 2010, Francisco had a 6-4 record, two saves and 3.76 earned-run average in 56 games. In 277 major league appearances — all with Texas — he boasts a 17-15 mark with 32 saves in 49 chances and 315 strikeouts and only 237 hits allowed in 283 1/3 innings pitched.

Francisco, Dotel and Rauch combined for 181 punchouts last season — well short of the Nasty Boys' 1990 performance — but each has closing experience. More importantly, rookie Blue Jays manager John Farrell will have some depth, as Frasor (3-4, four saves, 3.68 ERA last season) and Camp (4-3, two saves, 2.99 ERA) aren't exactly slouches.

One-time flame-thrower Rob Dibble, shown here in 1989, was a member of the Reds' Nasty Boys bullpen crew that combined for 44 saves in 1990 en route to a World Series title. ((Getty Images))

"We love the fact we have depth in the bullpen, one through seven," said Anthopoulos, without naming the sixth and seventh hurlers. David Purcey (3.71 ERA in 33 games) and Casey Janssen (five wins, 63 strikeouts in 68 2/3 innings) appear to be the front-runners.

Depth is reassuring

"It's especially critical and important considering how young the [starting] rotation is. I've seen a lot of seasons spiral out of control because of a weak bullpen. Having depth in that bullpen is going to be vital for us … and should be very reassuring to our starters."

Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, Marc Rzepczynski and Kyle Drabek are the projected starters. Rzepczynski, 25, and Drabek, 23, have combined for 26 major league starts. Each might only average five to six innings per outing in 2011.

It's something Anthopoulos has been mindful of as he reshapes the bullpen following the departures of free agents Kevin Gregg (Baltimore), Scott Downs (Los Angeles Angels) and Brian Tallet (St. Louis).

"We don't want to overtax our young arms," the second-year GM said. "You don't want to overwork [the starters] and get them to pitch counts of 120, 130 [in any start] because you don't feel you have a reliable bullpen."

Anthopoulos pointed to the depth and strength of the San Diego Padres bullpen. Five of their relievers — Joe Thatcher, Ernesto Frieri, Mike Adams, Ryan Webb and closer Heath Bell — posted an ERA under 3.00. Luke Gregerson (3.22) also played a key role in holding leads and getting the ball to Bell.

"I've seen it a lot of times where you only have one or two reliable relievers and those relievers get overtaxed because the manager only has confidence in [them]," Anthopoulos said. "The more depth you have, you do guard against guys not performing. Ultimately, it should allow us to win the games we're supposed to win."

It worked for the Reds, thanks to The Nasty Boys.