TORONTO – Opting for an inexperienced man of promise rather than another veteran retread, the Toronto Blue Jays will call up well-regarded prospect Sean Nolin to start Friday against the Baltimore Orioles.
The 23-year-old left-hander, set to become the 10th different starting pitcher used by the club so far, has been on the big-league radar since returning from a groin injury earlier this month.
Since a rough first outing – one watched by GM Alex Anthopoulos – he’s thrown 12 shutout innings with 13 strikeouts in two subsequent games.
The Blue Jays had a vacancy in the rotation with Chad Jenkins getting pushed back to Sunday in place of Ramon Ortiz, and opted to use it on a pitcher with just six starts and 30.1 innings at the double-A level.
"He's got the stuff to do it," said manager John Gibbons. "You never know for sure how somebody's going to react but he's a very mature kid, he carries himself well. We like him."
A sixth-round pick in 2010, Nolin actually received consideration for a call up last season, when he went 9-0 with a 2.19 ERA in 17 games, 15 starts, for single-A Dunedin, and 1-0 with a 1.20 ERA in three starts for New Hampshire.
Though his progress was stalled by the groin injury, he picked up right where he left off.
"I tried to get out there as soon as possible and my whole momentum stayed with me," Nolin said after arriving to the Blue Jays clubhouse after their 12-6 win over the Baltimore Orioles. "I think it was more mental focus instead of just physical, I'd tell myself I'm going to be all right, nothing changed, don't change anything, that's what I kind of went with."
Still, his relative lack of experience stirred some debate over whether he was being rushed. Working in in Nolin's favour is that he's a strike-thrower like Drew Hutchison, the right-hander who was called up after 31.2 innings over six double-A starts last year.
Hutchison held his own over 11 big-league starts, posting a 5-3 record and 4.60 ERA, before tearing a ligament in his elbow.
"The kid always wins wherever he goes," Gibbons said of Nolin. "I thought he looked good (during spring training). He can pitch, he's got a good feel, he's pitching in double-A but he's got a good idea of what he's doing. We'll see."
Gibbons understands the debate over when the time is right to call up prospects all too well from his days as a young catcher with the New York Mets. His sense is that Nolin, as a former college player, is better positioned to handle the promotion.
"For me personally, I got there when I was 21, I got there fast, then got injured and back then they didn't send guys out on rehab, that probably would have helped me," said Gibbons. "I went up out of double-A, when I look back it probably would have done me some good to go triple-A. But I was a high school kid, Nolin is a college kid, it's a little different.
"It's a tough balance. With the younger guys, the high school kids coming along, you need to be a little more cautious with them."
The key adjustment, added Gibbons, is in "getting over the hype. Up here you're under the microscope, you can't get away with mistakes the way you can down there and you've got to be able to pitch, you can't just be a thrower. A good arm is great to have but you still have to be able to pitch."
Jenkins, meanwhile, hasn't pitched since beating the Boston Red Sox on May 12 but should be good for 80-90 pitches. He replaces Ortiz - who made it through just 2.1 innings in a loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday.
"We want to give Jenkins a shot at doing it, take advantage of the opportunity to see what we got," explained Gibbons.
The opportunity isn't likely to last long for either Jenkins or Nolin, with Josh Johnson set to make his second rehabilitation start Saturday for triple-A Buffalo. Will that be enough to get him back to Toronto?
"The answer right now is I think he'll probably need another one, just to be on the safe side," said Gibbons. "He's been off a while, he's coming off an injury, he's one of the main dudes, you know?"