Both sides have something to gain from Anderson’s Blue Jays debut

Brett Anderson was a failed physical away from being a Blue Jay in 2014, but he’s here now and looking to impress on the mound down the stretch drive.

TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays have already churned through 13 starting pitchers this season and yet they have 31 games remaining on the schedule. They need innings.

Nearly four months removed from his last big-league game, Brett Anderson has a season ERA of 8.18. He needs an opportunity.

So, a little more than two weeks after signing a minor-league deal with the Blue Jays, Anderson’s in Toronto preparing for an assignment against the Boston Red Sox, and both sides have something to gain.

“It’s a combination of want and need and still playing meaningful games,” Anderson said Tuesday. “Hopefully it’ll work out on both ends.”

Of course this isn’t the first time the Blue Jays have pursued Anderson. Former GM Alex Anthopoulos nearly acquired him for Sergio Santos during the 2013-14 off-season, but the left-hander failed his physical and the deal fell through.

“I’m finally here now,” Anderson said.

When the Blue Jays pursued Anderson three off-seasons ago, he was just 25 years old, a controllable arm with upside. Now he’s on the brink of free agency, earning a pro-rated portion of the MLB minimum from the Blue Jays while the Chicago Cubs pay the rest of his $3.5-million salary. Sure, the Blue Jays could re-sign Anderson this winter, but at this point it’s tough to look that far ahead.

“To be determined. I’ve got to go out there and perform on the mound first and then everything else will take care of itself, but it’s good to be wanted,” Anderson said. “I’ve heard nothing but good things about the city and the group inside.”

Anderson’s just two seasons removed from what was arguably his best season as a big-leaguer. He posted a 3.69 ERA for the 2015 Dodgers, pitching 180.1 innings for a team that won the NL West.

Back and blister issues have limited Anderson to a total of nine big-league starts since then, but the Blue Jays were still intrigued enough to call him soon after he obtained his release from the Cubs.

They were rewarded with two strong starts at triple-A. Anderson allowed just one run while pitching 9.2 total innings and in his most recent outing he recorded nine ground-ball outs — an encouraging sign for a pitcher with a career ground-ball rate of 57.9 per cent.

“From what we saw at triple-A if he can just do what he was doing there we’d expect him to give us a legitimate major-league starter,” Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins said.

Anderson will have at least one familiar face playing defence behind him most nights: Josh Donaldson. While coming up through the Athletics minor-league system, Donaldson actually caught Anderson at times.

“I’m happy he’s a Gold Glove third baseman now because his attention span behind the plate wasn’t the best,” Anderson joked. “(Now) he can go over there and do what he does at third.”

Anderson has always relied heavily on his defence, preferring weak contact to swings and misses. His fastball now averages 90 m.p.h., down a couple ticks from his early days, but he was never an overpowering pitcher and he still got results, as evidenced by a 3.99 ERA in 121 career starts.

“Someone with a more-than-legitimate starter (track record),” Atkins said. “It’s one thing to have the skill set and tools to do that, it’s another thing to have done it. And he’s done it.”

To this point, the 2017 season has been a disappointment for both Anderson and his new team. But with more than a month remaining on the schedule, Anderson can re-build some value heading into free agency and the Blue Jays can take a close look at a pitcher they’ve long coveted.