HOUSTON – The combination of short-term need and long-term potential sent Joe Biagini to the minor-leagues, where he’ll be tasked with building his way back to the Toronto Blue Jays’ starting rotation—preferably sooner, rather than later.
It’s already the fourth time the Blue Jays have changed Biagini’s role this season, but with only four starters currently in the big-league rotation and Aaron Sanchez’s timeline still uncertain, the Blue Jays are looking for answers.
“Out of necessity we needed another starter,” manager John Gibbons said. “And we’re still looking to see if that’s his role in the future, too.”
As Gibbons says, there are bigger considerations in play here. Ever since they acquired Biagini in the 2015 Rule 5 Draft, the Blue Jays have been intrigued by Biagini as a starter. Now that Francisco Liriano’s no longer in Toronto and Marco Estrada’s on the brink of free agency, they need rotation depth beyond 2017. Biagini’s glad to see if he can fill that role for the organization even if it means a temporary demotion.
“I understand why they’d want to do that,” he said after the Blue Jays optioned him Friday. “I’d want to do that if I were them. It’s not a negative for me, because if I were given the choice to sit in the bullpen here or go down, lengthen out and come back and start, I’d choose that because it’s a real good opportunity.”
Biagini will make his first triple-A start Monday at Indianapolis. Because he’s not that far removed from starting, he’s hopeful that he will only need two or three minor-league starts and can re-join the big-league team ‘as soon as possible.’
Already, Biagini has been stretched out twice. It began in spring training, when the Blue Jays kept their options open by asking Biagini to start. Soon enough they realized there wasn’t room in the rotation, so he returned to the bullpen, where he stayed until injuries depleted the Blue Jays’ starting staff in early May.
Biagini made his first start May 3 and stayed in the rotation for two months, posting a 5.60 ERA over 11 outings. Along the way he showed promise at times, especially considering that he was starting for the first time since 2015 with next to no warning.
Still, Biagini was hit harder as a starter, so when he heads to Buffalo he’ll look to make a couple of adjustments. He’ll pitch from the full windup, something he didn’t do when he started earlier in the year.
He’s also hoping to build on some of his recent success out of the bullpen by sticking with a mechanical adjustment he made. In late June and early July, he was flying open toward first base at the end of his delivery instead of directing all of his energy toward home plate. More recently he has fixed that flaw, with better results to show for it.
“If I can apply that back to starting again, I’d be at least looking forward to see if that makes a difference,” Biagini said.
Internally, the Blue Jays debated whether to keep Biagini in the bullpen or stretch him out for a third time. If he can start, even as a back-end option, he’d provide the Blue Jays with considerable long-term value—likely more than he could offer out of the bullpen. Still, it’s a lot to ask a pitcher who has already gone through more than his share of transitions. Fortunately for the Blue Jays, Biagini understands their thinking.
“Of course they want their players to be good,” Biagini said. “They want someone that they have already to be able to handle that (starting) role. I want to be able to fulfill that for the team, not just for myself. I don’t view it as pressure.”