BALTIMORE – Over three years and two stints with the Blue Jays, reliever David Phelps has seen the vast talent of his young teammates complemented by something that could be at least as significant.
But it may be what he’s noticed off the field since his first tour of duty with the team that has impressed Phelps the most. Mix the two elements together and the 35-year-old veteran sees a team on the verge of something big when things get real later this week.
Specifically, the leadership presence of young stars such as Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette has caught Phelps attention.
“When they first got here in 2019 they were incredibly talented, but they were still trying to figure out how to be big leaguers,” Phelps said in the warmth of the visitor’s clubhouse at Camden Yards, away from the raw and wet conditions prior to game 160 of the Jays season.
“I said this at the beginning of spring training: It’s their team now. What they’ve been able to do. The roles they’ve taken – they’re not afraid to speak up. They’re not afraid to hold people accountable. They’re doing a great job of not only being incredibly talented baseball players, but being leaders on this team as well.”
That leadership element could be of huge benefit when the post season gets under way this Friday in the best-of-three wildcard series the Jays are gunning to make sure takes place in Toronto.
Winning certainly helps, but a close and loose clubhouse like the one we saw Monday – and throughout much of the season – has its benefits.
“This is probably the first year I can honestly say that everyone in the clubhouse is just a good dude,” closer Jordan Romano said. “That’s really tough to say when you’ve got 25 guys in here.
“We have the right mix of veteran guys coming in that have done this before and the young, coming up superstars. All of them are leaders and it’s a nice mix.”
Phelps has seen the value of such intangibles throughout his career, be it as a player or an observer of other teams’ success. It’s understood that Phelps is a veteran voice in the Jays clubhouse, alongside that of George Springer, Kevin Gausman and others. But the mix of positive influences among the group is something the right hander sees as special.
“The teams that are good for a long time, they start with young leaders,” Phelps said. “Look at the run the Giants went on and what the Yankees did back in the day. Look at the young talent that the Dodgers had for so long. If they’re able to do it, it can go a long way and really bring a clubhouse together.
“I’ve said for a long time, (the young Jays) help keep me young. Seeing an exciting brand of baseball like that, it’s fun to be a part of.”
So you better believe that the prospect of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2012, his rookie season, meant last week’s celebrations in Toronto that much more meaningful for Phelps.
“It was a blast,” Phelps said. “You play to get to the playoffs and you play to get to the World Series and that’s stop No. 1. Just being able to let loose and celebrate for a while was pretty awesome.”
Circling back to the leadership in the room, Phelps said that the Friday bash didn’t divert attention away from the task at hand. And that too, is important.
“(The excitement) is pretty high,” Phelps said. “We know we still have a job to do and it’s only the first step in the process.
“We’ve picked each other up for a while now. We’re coming together in all three facets of the game and it’s been fun to watch.”
ROMANO WANTS WORK
With three games remaining, Romano was hoping to see work in at least one of them. The big arm in the Jays bullpen says he thrives on regular workload to stay sharp.
“I’d definitely love to throw one two more times,” Romano said on Monday. “I don’t like to go four days – three days is the max. That way you get rest but you don’t feel rusty.
“Hopefully I get to go out there and it’s a save and a win and it means something.”
AROUND THE BASES
The potential return of outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who has missed 24 games on the injured list due to a hamstring strain, is anything but guaranteed in time for the post season. There’s a possibility Gurriel could be cleared to play by Friday – and he’s been ramping up his activity here. But Gurriel acknowledged on Monday that he’d be available in a pinch-hit role at best for the opener … There was more encouraging news regarding starter Kevin Gausman, who left Sunday’s game in Toronto with a cut on his right middle finger: “(The) finger looks a lot better,” manager John Schneider said. “No real concerns so I’m kind of glad we were a little bit cautious with him yesterday.” … The Jays have a trio of pitchers with them in Baltimore as part of a taxi squad – Julian Merryweather, Casey Lawrence and Matt Gage.