Blue Jays notebook: Fifth starter needed by Tuesday

The Blue Jays hit four home runs, including a grand slam from Ryan Goins, to get past the Brewers 8-4.

MILWAUKEE – The Blue Jays only have four starters at the moment, but that will have to change by Tuesday when they need one against the Cincinnati Reds.

“We’re walking through our options now,” general manager Ross Atkins said. “It’s not as simple as just what our best option is. There are 25- and 40-man roster complications.”

For example, the Blue Jays expect to start someone who’s already in the organization, but triple-A starters such as Mat Latos, T.J. House and Jarrett Grube aren’t on the 40-man roster.

Reinforcements should be on the way soon, however. J.A. Happ could be a viable big-league option within the next 10-15 days, according to Atkins. The left-hander could require anything from one to three rehab starts.

Francisco Liriano remains on track to make a rehab start Sunday, and once he’s ready to last five-plus innings, he’ll re-join the MLB rotation, too. In the meantime, the Blue Jays will continue relying on Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada, Joe Biagini and Mike Bolsinger.

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Off the field, Anthony Alford and Dwight Smith Jr. have become good friends. On the field, their paths to the big leagues have been closely connected, too.

Smith was called up to the Toronto Blue Jays last Thursday, and Alford followed a day later. By Tuesday, Alford had collected his first big-league hit, a double.

But he injured himself later in the game, and when the Blue Jays learned that Alford would require time on the disabled list with a broken left hamate bone, who else did they call on but Smith, who had lost his roster spot days earlier.

“You can’t separate the two of them,” manager John Gibbons remarked.

Then, when Smith finally got his first big-league hit, he picked up a double to match Alford.

“It just happens that way,” Smith said. “It’s definitely a load off of your shoulders.”

Smith said that collecting his first big-league hit ranks up there with his draft night among the happiest moments of his life. The added symmetry with Alford only adds to the moment.

“Definitely,” Smith said. “You always want to have a close bond with all of your teammates, and that just shows the chemistry of this locker-room.”

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The Blue Jays like what they’re seeing from Joe Smith, now their preferred setup option for closer Roberto Osuna. In 22 innings, Smith has a 2.45 ERA with 33 strikeouts and seven walks allowed — excellent results that stem in part from his ability to retire left-handed hitters despite his low arm slot.

“I thought certain lefties might give him trouble, but he’s faced some of the better ones,” Gibbons said. “Shoot, he’s getting more strikeouts than I ever thought he would get.”

So far this year, Smith’s allowing a .208/.224/.292 batting line in 50 plate appearances against right-handed hitters compared to a .233/.378/.267 line in 37 plate appearances against left-handed hitters.

Gibbons cited a recent at-bat against Chris Davis as evidence of how effective Smith can be when he faces lefties. Smith kept going up and in, and Davis struck out, unable to handle Smith’s pitches.

Of course Smith has been just one contributor in a bullpen that’s been exceeding expectations all month.

Ryan Tepera and Danny Barnes have been incredible for us,” Atkins said. “We’ve certainly needed it.”


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