- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- It's only two outings into spring training, but in Sergio Santos' two trips to the mound this spring, the Blue Jays are finally seeing the pitcher they thought they traded for a year ago.
Santos has allowed just one baserunner in two innings. Scouts are buzzing about him. And with closer Casey Janssen still recovering from shoulder surgery, Santos is looming as an increasingly important figure in this team's bullpen mix.
"Obviously, we didn't get to see him too much last year," pitching coach Pete Walker said Friday. "He got hurt in spring training, and he was never really right. But he's feeling really good right now. We're very pleased with where he is. He's progressing a little better than expected, to be honest with you.
"I thought he was really sharp [Thursday] in Tampa. He had all his pitches working. He commanded his fastball. He showed a few of his old devastating sliders, and his off-speed stuff was there. So we're very happy with where he is."
Santos was supposed to be the pivotal figure in Toronto's revamped bullpen last year, following the deal that brought him to the Blue Jays from the White Sox. But he wound up making just six appearances before having shoulder surgery. This spring, though, he has hit 95 mph on the gun and has positioned himself to be a major X factor in the American League East. And his work so far is a huge relief for a Blue Jays team that wasn't sure what to expect from him this spring.
"After missing the entire season, you always have that question mark coming in," Walker said. "But he's erasing that quickly, and he'd obviously be a shot in the arm and give this bullpen a nice lift if he's the old Sergio Santos, which is what we see right now."
Santos is penciled in to be the prime setup man for Janssen this year. But that depends on Janssen's progress following his shoulder surgery. Janssen, who saved 22 games last season, still hasn't thrown off a mound or faced hitters. And he's approaching a pivotal point in the spring if he's going to be ready for Opening Day.
"The next seven to 10 days will tell a lot," Walker said. "But he's feeling good. He's long-tossing right now. The arm is feeling good. So he's progressing on his schedule. He's still behind the other guys, but there's still a good chance he could break with the team."
In the big picture, the Blue Jays view Janssen's surgery as just "a minor cleanup," Walker said, so they expect him to be 100 percent at some point. But the next week and a half is big, "just because he has to be able to get in some games."
"He has to be able to go back-to-back days before we get out of here," Walker said, "and he's got to feel good after those back-to-back days. If he gets to that point, where following those outings he's recovering nicely, then we'll make the decision at that point. But with that being said, the worst-case scenario is still a week or two into the season."
If Janssen and Santos are both back to what they were, then the Blue Jays' bullpen could go from a worry to a strength.
"That's the perception out there, that that would be an area of concern," Walker said. "But the addition of Darren Oliver coming back, when we were really feeling, going into the offseason, as if he was going to retire, that gave us a lift. He gives us a veteran presence down there. If we get Sergio throwing the ball the way he is right now and we get Casey Janssen back as soon as possible, we should be in good shape."