BOSTON — The Toronto Blue Jays do not have enough pitching. It was the case yesterday, when manager Charlie Montoyo was forced to navigate nine innings without a starter and only five relievers truly available.
It’s the case today, as the Blue Jays play their 13th of 16 consecutive games without an off day. And it’ll be the case tomorrow, when the club opens a three-game set in the Bronx against the division-best New York Yankees.
Really, it’s been the case for weeks, and it’ll continue to be the case for a while until the club’s current confluence of unfortunate pitching circumstances resolves itself. And, in the meantime, it’s forcing the Blue Jays into some uncomfortable moves just to get through the here and now.
That’s why Sean Reid-Foley, who was scheduled to start for the triple-A Buffalo Bisons Sunday, was scratched from that outing and summoned to the majors to provide emergency innings-cover in case something went awry. And it’s why Jordan Romano, who has turned heads with his upper-90’s stuff and aggressive approach, was optioned to triple-A to make room.
“There is an immediate need today and tomorrow. And if you don’t address it and something happens today, then it becomes a real problem tomorrow,” said Blue Jays assistant GM Joe Sheehan, who’s with the team in Boston. “You just can’t get into a situation in the game where you’re pushing guys beyond what they’re healthy and able to do. That’s where it can potentially snowball. It becomes a need for two months instead of two days.”
The Blue Jays certainly have that issue, as the club’s bullpen has been beyond taxed over this relentless stretch of the schedule. Entering Sunday’s series finale against the Red Sox, six of the club’s nine relievers had thrown 38 pitches or more over the last three days. Three of them had made four appearances over the last seven. Closer Ken Giles had only just returned from a bout of elbow inflammation, which forced him to spend 10 days on the injured list. You can only push their arms so far.
Reid-Foley arrived Sunday to help give that group a break after he worked to a 5.87 ERA over 14 appearances (13 starts) with Buffalo this season. He’ll be available out of the bullpen to Montoyo for the next few games, before the club determines how to progress with him going forward.
Meanwhile, the optioning is a tough result for Romano, who has thrived since being converted to a reliever in early May. He was dominant while serving as Buffalo’s closer, and struck out 11 of the 19 batters he faced with the Blue Jays after earning his first big-league call up earlier this month.
“Yeah, it sucks for him. He’s been really good so far,” Sheehan said. “Really, it comes down to keeping depth and making sure that we’re not short innings today and tomorrow — making sure that doesn’t keep happening and necessitate a cascading series of other moves as a result of this one.”
Choosing to option Romano was not easy. After the call was made to summon Reid-Foley, Blue Jays decision makers discussed corresponding move options for more than an hour after Saturday’s game, and continued the debate Sunday morning.
One alternative was to try sneaking Nick Kingham or Derek Law through waivers, but the Blue Jays weren’t confident either player would go unclaimed, particularly Kingham, who there was a market for when Toronto acquired him from the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 13. Optioning Sam Gaviglio was another, but the Blue Jays were worried they might need his length out of the bullpen during the club’s upcoming series in the Bronx.
Giles, Joe Biagini, Daniel Hudson, and David Phelps aren’t going anywhere. And as the only left-hander in the bullpen, Tim Mayza’s spot is secure. That left Romano as the odd man out.
“He’s a pro. He’s great. He’s got pretty limited time up here, but he’s a really good kid. This is not any kind of indictment on how he’s pitching. We still think he’s really good,” Sheehan said. “He pitched really well. He got it and understood. And he’ll be back. We’re still really excited about him.”
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays continue to pursue outside options to supplement its battered pitching staff. The club had discussions with Cody Allen after the Los Angeles Angels released the right-hander on Tuesday. But Allen is now expected to join the Minnesota Twins, who can offer him a rather attractive opportunity the Blue Jays cannot — pitching for a first-place team.
Trevor Rosenthal, the one-time St. Louis Cardinals closer, is also available after he was released by the Washington Nationals Sunday morning. He’s struggled extraordinarily this season, allowing 16 runs over 12 appearances, walking 15 while striking out only five. But he still throws 98-m.p.h. after missing all of 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery, and the Blue Jays discussed him during the off-season before he signed a one-year, $7-million deal with Washington. If Rosenthal doesn’t find much of a market as a free agent, the Blue Jays could try to scoop him up on a minor-league deal.
“We’re actively looking. We’ve been actively looking throughout the year with some of our moves — whether it’s a small trade for Edwin Jackson, a waiver claim, a DFA,” Sheehan said. “We’ve been fairly active so far this year. And we’re going to continue to be fairly active in that market. If something presents itself, we’ll keep evaluating it and keep trying to add and raise the ability of the entire staff.”
The problem the Blue Jays face internally is one of circumstance. Reid-Foley was extremely inconsistent pitching out of Buffalo’s rotation, posting a very encouraging 10 K/9 and a not-so-encouraging 6.7 BB/9. Some in the organization feel he may have hit a road block, and could benefit from a temporary change in scenery. One idea is to get him some relief work at the major-league level, pitching with intent and maximizing his stuff over a shorter outing, before resuming as a starter in the coming weeks, potentially with the Blue Jays if the club still has its current rotation vacancy when it next needs a fifth starter in early July.
Meanwhile, Ryan Borucki, Clay Buchholz, and Edwin Jackson are all on the injured list and not close to returning. Matt Shoemaker’s done for the season with a torn ACL. Thomas Pannone is currently in the process of getting stretched out after spending most of the year in Toronto’s bullpen. And TJ Zeuch, Toronto’s first-round pick in the 2016 draft, only just reached triple-A, where he was intended to begin the season before a lat injury during spring training cost him two months.
Jacob Waguespack has pitched two rehab outings as he returns from a minor shoulder issue, and will move right to the front of the line for a look in the major-league rotation once he’s ready to go. Julian Merryweather will be a strong consideration once he’s up to speed, as well. The hard-throwing right-hander is scheduled to pitch his first outing in more than 21 months on Monday after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March 2018.
And that’s about it as far as current internal options go. The club has a trio of pitching prospects it’s high on at double-A in Patrick Murphy, Hector Perez, and Yennsy Diaz. But the Blue Jays are prioritizing their development rather than rushing them to the majors to fill an immediate need. A stop at triple-A is the most likely next step for all three.
Nate Pearson, the club’s top pitching prospect, should soon rejoin that group as well. He was placed on the minor-league injured list Saturday with a hip issue that the club doesn’t believe to be serious. The Blue Jays have been extremely cautious with Pearson’s innings this season after he missed almost all of 2018 with a broken arm. The 22-year-old’s been alternating between five- and two-inning outings throughout the season, and the club is using the unfortunate occasion of this minor injury as an opportunity to get him some further rest.
Injuries, under-performance, a gruelling major-league schedule — it’s all combined to stretch Toronto’s organizational pitching to its limits. And with multiple arms potentially being shipped out prior to the July 31 trade deadline, the need for innings-cover in the majors is only due to increase. As some of these circumstances resolve themselves over the coming weeks, things should begin to look better for the Blue Jays. But for now, the club’s just trying to get through today.