Roughly translated, “Hakuna Matata” means no worries.
That’s exactly the feeling 20-year-old Roberto Osuna has been able to give Toronto and their fans upon entering the ninth inning. The youngest player in the league has been nothing short of spectacular since embracing the closer role, and has major potential to be heavily involved in the Blue Jays future.
The real question is; should we be surprised?
Number 54 has always been some kind of special. When he was 12, Osuna was throwing the ball between 75-80 MPH at a tournament in Columbia. At 14-years-old, it was 89-90 MPH. At 15, it was 95 MPH. Today, his fastball sits at 96-99 MPH. The credentials are there in order to be a dominant closer.
It was in his early years when Osuna walked away from school to dedicate his life to baseball and pitch in Japan. He was throwing against players almost 10 years older than him. At 16 (the year that Toronto originally signed him), he was pitching professionally in Mexico, facing hitters that were twice his age, some were even ex-pros.
“I was a bit nervous, especially because my dad had a new career there at the time,” Osuna told the Toronto Star, “I faced a couple of ex-big leaguers, but to be honest, they couldn’t hit my fastball. So I said they can’t hit it, so what I have to do is go out and make good pitches.”
At 18 years old, while looking forward to his debut in Dunedin, Osuna tore a ligament in his elbow and is now 23 months removed from Tommy John surgery. You can’t tell when you see him pitch, though. His fastball has flourished and successfully translated to Major League Baseball. He also hasn’t been shy about its usage. Roberto Osuna has thrown 564 fastballs during the 2015 campaign. Batters aren’t generating much luck, hitting for a .214 AVG with a BABIP of .266. The changeup is his second most common pitch, but he has thrown it only 133 times this year.
The right-hander has always been the young pitcher striking out older players, and his mental make-up on the mound shows it. Whether he is having success, or down 2-0 in a count with runners in scoring position, you will see an emotionless figure on the mound. It isn’t until the job is done that the youngster will show the passion that he pitches with. His experience in professional ball shows each time he’s on the bump. Look no further than last night against the Phillies.
With nobody on, two out, and a 2-2 count, Osuna called time to talk to Russell Martin about a certain cross up in signs that they were having. The game was all but over, but Osuna wanted to ensure that he was on the same page with his catcher. Something so small like this plays a big role in his professionalism and his integration into the closer role.
Roberto Osuna has now gone seven straight appearances without letting in a run. He has eight saves in as many outings, and is 14-for-15 converting saves on the year. The 20-year-old has been one piece of a bullpen that has held teams to an ERA under two since the All-Star break, which is good for second in the American League. His dominance allowed General Manager Alex Anthopoulos to search for an upgrade at shortstop, a starting pitcher, and some arms in the bullpen, instead of using prospects for a ninth inning guy. Number 54 has done more than meets the eye this season, and has finally filled the gap that has been haunting the Blue Jays since 2001. Here’s a quick look at Canada’s team and their inability to find a closer.
2001: Billy Koch
2002: Kelvim Escobar
2004: Jason Frasor
2005: Miguel Batista
2006: B.J. Ryan
2007: Jeremy Accardo
2008: B.J. Ryan
2009: Jason Frasor and Scott Downs
2010: Kevin Gregg
2012-2014: Casey Janssen
It has been over a decade since the Blue Jays have been able to find a pitcher who can get the job done aside from Casey Janssen and B.J. Ryan. The situation has been a nightmare, and Osuna may be just the guy to stop the bleeding.
Toronto is a team full of pleasant surprises this year. Chris Colabello, Kevin Pillar, and Ryan Goins are just a few along with Osuna that have been enjoying the 2015 campaign. Sitting 1.0 games back of the American League East division title, the unsung heroes still have some work to do to overcome the New York Yankees.
One thing is for certain; come the ninth inning in a close game, there are no worries in the Blue Jays clubhouse.