BALTIMORE – Nick Kingham is the newest member of the Toronto Blue Jays, role TBD. The former top-100 prospect was designated for assignment recently by the Pittsburgh Pirates, who after a decade ran out of time and patience with a 27-year-old right-hander carrying a 9.87 ERA and 2.048 WHIP in 14 games, four of them starts, this season. The Blue Jays have some ideas for him relating to his pitch mix. For a roster in constant flux, it’s more churn, baby, churn.
No one in baseball understands what the Blue Jays are doing right now quite like the Baltimore Orioles, one of the few teams in the majors throwing more stuff at the wall in a desperate attempt to see what sticks. If you think things are ugly in Toronto, well, they’re far messier in Maryland, where you can count the number of players on the roster that figure to still be a part of things when they eventually turn on one hand, room to spare.
The Blue Jays took advantage of that this week in taking two of three at Camden Yards, capped by Thursday’s 12-3 victory. They beat up on a pitching staff that offers up some good hitting, notably shifting away from their recent pull-happy ways, shooting several balls the opposite way to find holes and confuse a defensive alignment expecting them to go full yank. Cavan Biggio enjoyed the first multi-homer game of his career. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Danny Jansen each had three hits. Everyone in the lineup had at least one knock.
“The beautiful thing about tonight was the approach of Danny Jansen going the other way, that was good to see, Rowdy (Tellez) going the other way, because they’ve been working on that,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “They’ve been pulling the ball a lot, so it was good to see that approach. And, of course, Gurriel is still hitting pretty good, and Vlad Guerrero. They made an adjustment.”
Said Jansen: “That happens when you’re on time. You see where the pitch is and you can do what you want with it. I’m trying to stay up the middle, that’s always how I’ve been. I like to pull it, I like to get the head out, but if I’m on time, I can go the other way with it.”
Good vibes, then, heading into a three-game series against the Houston Astros, a team that not so long ago was where the Blue Jays and Orioles are now. Kingham is meeting the team there. The search for stuff that sticks continues.
“One of the benefits for clubs going through the building process that the Orioles are right now is that we have a little more leeway and opportunity to allow these players some extended stretch of playing time at the major-league level, especially those that are possibly out of options and can’t be sent to the minor-leagues without clearing waivers,” Orioles GM Mike Elias said in an interview.
“Theoretically, if we’re able to make use of that, we can possibly have fewer instances where we let a guy go too soon, he didn’t get a good enough chance here and he goes somewhere else and sticks. We’ve got to be the club where guys get an extended audition and if we do it 10 or 12 times and it nets one or two legitimate major-league players, it’s worth it.”
To that end, that’s how the Blue Jays front office feels about Rule 5 pick Elvis Luciano, the 19-year-old plucked out of rookie ball thanks to a technicality and force-fed into the majors. He hit the injured list Thursday with a right elbow sprain suffered a night earlier, when he didn’t feel right warming, tried to pitch through it and sidelined himself.
There’s no timeline for his return, and given his age there’s cause to be careful, but there’s also no rush to get him back. Rule 5 picks have to remain on a club’s big-league roster for a full season to become their permanent property, but they only need to be active 90 days to qualify.
So far, Luciano has been active for 77 days.
In the worst-case scenario, should he miss the rest of the season, he’d need to accrue 13 more days on the roster next season before being eligible to be optioned. Put another way, he’s almost theirs.
His presence has meant the Blue Jays have had to do a lot of bullpen juggling and Justin Shafer was recalled to take Luciano’s place on the 25-man roster. The right-hander came out hot, striking out the side in the seventh before allowing a Chance Sisco solo shot in the eighth.
Marcus Stroman did the heavy lifting with six strong innings, allowing two runs, one earned, on seven hits with five strikeouts. The Orioles had to scratch and claw to push anything across against him, on a night the right-hander made few mistakes and got bled a bit for the runs he surrendered.
“This is definitely a mental game because it’s very frustrating making good pitches and having to deal with balls getting through,” said Stroman. “You have to be able to do a good job of telling yourself that it’s not going to happen over and over again, and it to not get out of your groove and to stick to your strengths.”
Scouts from at least nine teams were on hand to take in the proceedings, underlining the transient nature of players who don’t time with the developing cores of both clubs. They’re for sale.
Hard-hitting outfielder Trey Mancini is a bubble case for the Orioles, still with enough control to make keeping him around a possibility but with enough value to make the club consider a reallocation of his worth.
It’s the kind of stuff that sucks your soul as a fan, an observer, even as a participant, all to an end in which enough stuff has stuck to the wall to build a team with a chance to win. So, Nick Kingham, step right up. Opportunity awaits.