With less than three weeks remaining before opening day, the Toronto Blue Jays’ roster is starting to take shape. In an appearance on Sportsnet 590 the FAN Thursday, manager John Gibbons acknowledged that Drew Hutchison has the inside track for a rotation spot and suggested Moises Sierra and Erik Kratz are well-positioned to make the team as bench players.
“Nobody’s pitched better this spring than Hutch,” Gibbons told Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt in Dunedin, Fla. “The way he’s pitching he’s been dominating.”
It’d be a surprise if Hutchison wasn’t named to the Blue Jays’ opening day rotation, especially with J.A. Happ battling back soreness. “I don’t want to come out and say anything but [Hutchison] is at the top of the list,” Gibbons said.
As for Happ, the left-hander felt good after a recent side session and will pitch in minor league game within the next couple of days. “He’s still a guy we’re counting on,” Gibbons said.
Esmil Rogers and Todd Redmond are also in the mix for rotation spots along with Marcus Stroman. Gibbons says Stroman has had a solid camp, but he would like the top prospect to tighten his command. “How this is all going to shake out we’re not sure,” Gibbons said.
Consecutive impressive outings have put Ricky Romero back on Gibbons’ radar after an extremely poor showing in 2013. The left-hander pitched four innings Wednesday, catching the eye of Blue Jays decision makers. “If he keeps moving in this direction, maybe the old guy’s back,” Gibbons said.
Of course the Blue Jays nearly addressed their rotation by signing a free agent. They believed they were closing in on a deal with Ervin Santana over the weekend, but the right-hander signed with the Atlanta Braves. Gibbons acknowledged that some Blue Jays players were disappointed not to land Santana, who seemingly preferred to pitch in the senior circuit for a 2013 division winner.
“I think that the offer was pretty much the same from both teams and he had the desire to go to the National League to the Braves,” Gibbons said, echoing the explanation of general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
Without Santana, the Blue Jays are relying on some relatively unproven starters to improve upon last year’s 4.81 ERA. The Blue Jays are optimistic about their rotation depth, but it’s a lot to ask, and Gibbons knows it.
“The skeptics will be out there and rightfully so,” he said.
SIERRA’S EDGE: Sierra appears to have the inside edge over Anthony Gose for the Blue Jays’ fourth outfielder job. While Sierra doesn’t offer as much defensive ability as Gose, he has two things going for him: he’s out of options (meaning the Blue Jays would have to expose him to waivers if they don’t break camp with him) and he hits right-handed (allowing him to complement Adam Lind’s skillset). “Hopefully he makes the team and things work out,” Gibbons said.
The Blue Jays would be content to rely on Melky Cabrera as a backup centre fielder if Sierra breaks camp with the team, a possibility that seemed remote before the switch-hitting left fielder showed up to camp in improved condition.
KRATZ LOOKING GOOD: The Blue Jays like what they see from Erik Kratz, and it may be enough to earn the catcher an opening day roster spot over Josh Thole. Kratz has been R.A. Dickey’s primary catcher this spring, but Gibbons insists the battle for the backup catcher’s spot will last until the end of spring training. “I think Kratzie has done a pretty good job with him so far, so we’ll see how this all plays out,” Gibbons said.