The major question mark of the Toronto Blue Jays roster is the pitching staff. With the number of pitchers hoping to make the Opening Day roster, the Blue Jays are prioritizing flexibility. Toronto was one of the few teams to win the offseason, and now they have padded down their depth. However, for a club with clear playoff expectations, they need to get the most out of their pitching staff. It’s not just the question of who will be the fifth starter in the rotation, but who could be coming out of the bullpen in certain situations.
The Starting Rotation
Ideally, the five-person starting staff features Hyun-Jin Ryu and four of Robbie Ray, Nate Pearson, Steven Matz, Tanner Roark, and Ross Stripling. They opened camp with plenty of competition at the back of their rotation. Guys like Trent Thornton, Tyler Chatwood, Anthony Kay, Tom Hatch, T.J. Zeuch, and Julian Merryweather are in the mix for a rotation spot. Ryu is the ace of the rotation, leading the Blue Jays pitching staff with a 2.69 ERA last year. However, behind him, there are question marks.
It’s likely Pearson fulfills his top prospect potential, but has only thrown 119 2/3 innings in the last two seasons. The 24-year old’s main focus comes from two areas: staying healthy and working on his fastball command. Toronto will have to be mindful of Pearson’s workload in a 162 game season, which Charlie Montoyo and Pete Walker will monitor closely. If he can show he can control his 100-mph fastball, it would be a major boost to the rotation’s aspiring hopes.
Ray, Roark, and Matz are looking to rebound from so-so seasons a year ago. Ray is focusing on finding consistency in his delivery. A goal for him this year will be throwing first-pitch strikes to get ahead of batters. Meanwhile, Matz was awful in his final season with the New York Mets. Before that though, the lefty was a league-average pitcher in 2018-19. Matz has shown flashes of being something more before then. Hopefully, a change of scenery helps unlock his potential. As for Roark, he’s owed $12 million this year, but it will be his durability that the team wants out of him most.
Toronto is not in danger of being unable to cover innings, but another top-end-arm is still missing. The next best option may be hunting for a pitcher through a trade. One who could make the pitching staff as lethal as their batting lineup.
MLB won’t limit the number of pitchers on a 26-man roster. The Blue Jays could have up to nine relievers in their bullpen. Their bullpen will likely feature six of Ryan Borucki, A.J. Cole, David Phelps, Rafael Dolis, Jordan Romano, and Kirby Yates. Toronto added experience with a trio of one-year deals for Yates, Chatwood, and Phelps. Yates is likely the closer. Phelps, Dolis, Cole, and Jordan will likely serve as one-inning guys. Stripling could slide from the starting rotation to the bullpen as a swingman. He and Chatwood can handle longer outings, which could be advantageous for a team opening to using pitchers creatively.
Borucki is in line to be a left-handed option and could be joined by Tim Mayza. The team will have a look at Merryweather, Hatch, Thornton, Kay, Zeuch, and Jacob Waguespack. Although, the Blue Jays will have to decide what to do with the rest of the bunch. While the bullpen is an option for some of them, they could start the year as the starting rotation in Triple-A.
The Blue Jays are counting on a handful of arms to step up and play an important role for their group. As the season goes along, there will be tough decisions to make, and the team aspires to be much better. However, the priority now is creating as many options as possible. General Manager Ross Atkins could have bought another arm over the winter. Instead, he chose a different approach, showing the level of adaptability the Blue Jays must need from their pitching staff in the months ahead.
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Players Mentioned: Hyun-Jin Ryu, Robbie Ray, Nate Pearson, Steven Matz, Tanner Roark, Ross Stripling, Trent Thornton, Tyler Chatwood, Anthony Kay, Tom Hatch, T.J. Zeuch, Julian Merryweather, Ryan Borucki, A.J. Cole, David Phelps, Rafael Dolis, Jordan Romano, Kirby Yates, Tim Mayza, Jacob Waguespack.
Manager Mentioned: Charlie Montoyo.