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Gaviglio answering the call out of Jays' bullpen

ARLINGTON, Texas — In some cases, an athlete’s numbers only tell half the story. But Sam Gaviglio’s statistics from his first month-plus of the 2019 major league season speak volumes.

Through 11 appearances with the Toronto Blue Jays, the Ashland native is 2-0 with a 1.21 ERA, an 0.58 WHIP and 23 strikeouts, numbers which have clearly impressed his new manager, Charlie Montoyo.

“He’s been great. He’s one of the reasons we’re hanging in there,” Montoyo said during a recent road trip to Texas. “He can pitch one inning today and go three the next day. He can give you length. He can come in and get a good hitter out. He should have won the pitcher of the month (for April). Those numbers were outstanding.”

Gaviglio came to the Blue Jays last March in a trade with Kansas City. He spent the bulk of last season as a starter for Toronto, going 2-10 with a 5.43 ERA in 24 starts. However, late last season he moved to the bullpen and was 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in two relief appearances.

And this year, he’s established himself as one of Toronto’s best setup men, a role he’s thrived in.

“I can throw strikes,” Gaviglio said. “That’s what I want to do, do it to the best of my abilities. Whether I’m the long guy and I got to chew up some innings or if I need to come in for an inning and get some outs (I’ll do whatever they ask).”

Originally a fifth-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals out of Oregon State in the 2011 MLB draft, Gaviglio was a .2008 graduate of Ashland High. He led the Grizzlies to the state championship and was named Class 5A pitcher of the year.

The two-year anniversary of his May 11, 2017, big-league debut with the Mariners is rapidly approaching, and the affable right-hander is fully aware that he now calls the same ballpark he debuted in, Toronto’s Rogers Centre, home.

“Yeah, it’s kind of crazy. I think it was exactly a year from when I got called up last year (by the Jays) from when I debuted with the Mariners,” Gaviglio said. “Yeah, it’s something you never ever really think about or (think) will ever happen. It’s been great. Toronto’s a beautiful city. It’s safe. I feel comfortable having my family there.”

Gaviglio pitched for both the Mariners and Royals in 2017 before being traded north to Toronto last spring. Playing for three different teams in less than three years might seem like a lot for most young pitchers, but Gaviglio opts to see the proverbial glass as half full, happy for the current opportunity the Jays have afforded him, first as a starter and now as one of their more valuable bullpen arms.

“Yeah, a lot of it’s out of your control and that’s something you can’t really focus on. I think when you start doing that, it becomes more of a distraction than anything,” he said.

For the first time as a big-leaguer, he’s experienced a managerial change after John Gibbons, who was in his second stint leading the Jays, was fired after last season. Montoyo, the former bench coach in Tampa Bay, replaced Gibbons and Gaviglio appreciates the new-school approach his new skipper has brought to the Jays.

“He’s done a great job trying some new stuff. We’re doing what we can and willing to win ballgames,” he said. “I think that’s what matters at the end of the day.”

Something else he’s enjoyed about his time in Toronto is how close the entire clubhouse is, a feeling of unity he experienced from day one after being traded from the Royals.

“Yeah, I think that’s something I experienced coming up last year, how well along everybody got together in the clubhouse,” Gaviglio said. “I think this year it’s kind of carried over. We got a lot of young talent here and we’ve got some veteran leadership. That’s a good balance.”

Regardless of whether he was pitching for Seattle, Kansas City or with his current employer, Toronto, Gaviglio has always been mindful that he is not only representing his current team and city each time he takes the mound, but he’s also representing Ashland and showing his Oregon pride, something he’s further reminded of daily with teammate Brandon Drury hailing from Grants Pass.

“I was born and raised there. I think it’s beautiful area,” he said of Ashland. “I can’t imagine growing up anywhere else than there.”

Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.

Toronto Blue Jays' relief pitcher Sam Gaviglio throws against the Minnesota Twins in a baseball game Monday, April 15, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Sam Gaviglio throws to a Milwaukee Brewers batter during an exhibition baseball game Monday, March 25, 2019, in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)