Blue Jays have pitching options, but Ken Giles expects old school approach

Watch as Cavan Biggio swings on a 3-0 pitch and sends it out of the park, putting Team Grichuk up 5-0 against Team Bichette.

TORONTO – No, Ken Giles didn’t consider opting out of the 2020 season, a campaign in which the Toronto Blue Jays closer has plenty riding on given that he’s a pending free agent.

Still, there’s more to his decision than that, and he’s taking extra precautions with his health.

“I was 100 per cent going to return no matter what because for me, I want to go out there and play, I want to get back to a little normalcy, as [does] everyone else in the world,” said Giles, who became a father for the second time last August. “And I want to set a good example, just washing your hands, wearing a mask. It’s going probably to be the new normal, but I want to be an example, like it’s not going to be that bad.”

Proving his point, the only times Giles won’t be wearing a facemask at the ballpark this summer are “when I’m doing a physical activity – that’s running, pitching, throwing, lifting.”

“Other than that, my mask is always on,” Giles continues. “If I’m walking around, if I’m hanging out in the dugout, I will always have one on. Everyone is going to be different. That’s my opinion. I feel like that’s the best way for me to compete.”

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Identifying the best way to compete is a moving target on a number of levels right now across the baseball world, from individual players trying to position themselves to compete as best as possible during this abridged pandemic training camp, to clubs seeking ways to maximize their rosters across a 60-game season.

The lightened workload opens up all kinds of room for creativity, especially on the pitching side, where usage patterns have been evolving rapidly in recent years. With fewer games, teams will be able to either concentrate innings among their best pitchers, or divide the burden more widely across expanded rosters.

With Charlie Montoyo essentially confirming that Chase Anderson is headed to the injured list with an oblique injury – “I don’t see him at this point starting the season,” said the manager – the Blue Jays have some decisions to make on that front.

Left-hander Anthony Kay, who allowed three runs in four innings of work as his Team Bo fell to Team Grich 5-0 in Wednesday night’s intrasquad game, is one candidate to cover for Anderson, with Nate Pearson and Ryan Borucki, each set to pitch Thursday, also in the mix, among others.

At this point, the Blue Jays don’t seem inclined to use an opener or something along those lines, although, as Montoyo said, “opener is always on the table.”

“But,” he quickly added, “we’re building up enough guys that I’m not worried about that right now.”

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Still, the way things are developing on the Blue Jays pitching staff opens up some intriguing possibilities for Montoyo and company.

Whoever doesn’t end up in the rotation from the trio of Kay, Pearson and Borucki could certainly be paired with the pitcher who does to ensure fuller game coverage. Canadian Jordan Romano, who changed the grip on his slider over the winter and tweaked it using Rapsodo data, looked dominant again in striking out the side in the first inning and is positioning himself to be a weapon of increasing importance. The power-armed duo of Rafael Dolis and Anthony Bass are solid leverage options, A.J. Cole and Justin Miller offer big-league experience, Shun Yamaguchi has past closing experience but has yet to his stride as he transitions from Japan, and Ty Tice is among the many young arms to keep an eye on.

The Blue Jays could get creative with that group and others, although the additions of Hyun-Jin Ryu and Tanner Roark to a rotation of returnees Matt Shoemaker and Trent Thornton allow them to run a more traditional pitching staff out of the gate.

“Earlier on, of course, you can have the little piggybacks for the starter as they get their feet wet but I expect to go back to the older days where the starters are able to go a little deeper and the bullpens down the stretch will be much fresher in the long run, since it’s a shortened season,” said Giles. “But I can see a lot of teams being more creative just because you’ll have a lot more weapons and you want to use them. You can do three innings for a starter, then another three innings for another guy and then mix and match or whatever.

“I won’t be surprised to see something like that. For our team, especially, I can see our starters go deep into games and our relievers will be much fresher down the stretch.”

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

Either way Giles figures to be used a lot, ideally from the Blue Jays’ vantage point to lock down a bevy of wins, but to showcase to other clubs ahead of the Aug. 31 trade deadline if not. The 29-year-old was nearly traded at last summer’s deadline, but a deal with the Yankees died near the finish line, and the club hasn’t moved to extend him, despite his public expressions of a desire to stay.

“Nothing has changed on that front,” said Giles. “If those talks do ever happen, I’m all ears, but we’re focused on other things right now. I’m just focused on the season right now.”

Given all the uncertainty about next week, let alone next month, that’s a sound approach. A season without fans is expected to depress the open market next fall and performing well this summer, assuming Major League Baseball can pull this off, is likely to be pivotal in getting paid once the market opens.

Giles is doing all he can to deliver on his end. And if some anti-masker, Team-Hoax types happen to notice how seriously he’s taking safety during the COVID-19 pandemic and adapt their ways, all the better.

SHORT HOPS

• Antony Kay cruised through his first three innings before allowing three straight hits to open the fourth, setting up all three against him to cross.

• Randal Grichuk followed a Vladimir Guerrero single that was misplayed into two bases with a home run to left, while Joe Panik followed with a double, took third on a Reese McGuire groundout and scored on a Billy McKinney fly ball.

• In the fifth, Santiago Espinal beat out an infield single and Cavan Biggio followed with a two-run homer to right off Justin Miller.

• As a native of nearby Markham, Ont., Jordan Romano is in the odd position of being home but not being able to go home. “It was definitely nice just coming in and seeing the buildings, it’s familiar,” he said. “That’s really great. But I really want to see my parents back home. I have a little dog at home, but it’s just nice being back in the city, even though I can’t go home. I’m just grateful we’re allowed here and allowed to play.”

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