Anthopoulos: Rotation priority for Blue Jays

Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos. (Nathan Denette/CP)

TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays want to improve their rotation and their bullpen, but if they had to address one need they’d focus on upgrading their starters.

“That’s probably more our priority,” GM Alex Anthopoulos told MLB Network Radio Sunday. “We could use both, but if I did have to prioritize it I’d say rotation first, bullpen would be next.”

The Blue Jays expect Aaron Sanchez to spend the entire season in the rotation once he returns from the lat strain that sent him to disabled list earlier this month. Anthopoulos said he’s hopeful the 22-year-old will be back within a few weeks, though the Blue Jays will have a better sense of his progress once they watch him throw in Tampa Bay Monday.

“This snuck up on him a little bit and we’re being cautious,” pitching coach Pete Walker said Sunday. “He feels great right now so we’re anticipating getting him back relatively soon. We’ll stay on top of it the second half on the season, but we expect him to be really good for us.”

While the Blue Jays view Sanchez as a starter both short term and long-term, a big enough deal could push him back to the bullpen, where he excelled last year, posting a 1.09 ERA in 33 innings.

“If all of a sudden we make some trades — if we can get two starters in a trade and our team’s stronger with him in the bullpen, we wouldn’t rule it out,” Anthopoulos said.

Blue Jays relievers rank 15th in MLB with a 3.56 ERA, and their starters rank 25th in baseball with a 4.42 mark. While Aaron Loup allowed the Baltimore Orioles to rally in Saturday’s game, Toronto’s relievers have pitched well of late.

“I think the bullpen has done a really nice job,” Walker said. “Roles aside, I think those guys have come out and they’ve thrown more strikes. You look at limiting the other team to not getting free passes and I think we’ve done a good job of that.

“Overall those guys have done a nice job,” Walker continued. “Liam Hendriks, even Bo Schultz and (Ryan) Tepera in their limited outings have done a nice job throwing strikes and forcing contact which is what you need to do. Those guys have good stuff down there. They’re not coming in throwing 90 mph, they have overpowering fastballs that they have to utilize.”

The Blue Jays have been linked to relievers including Jonathan Papelbon, Tyler Clippard and Francisco Rodriguez in recent rumours. Potentially available starting pitchers include Matt Garza, Scott Kazmir and Kyle Lohse plus aces Johnny Cueto and Cole Hamels.

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