Blue Jays’ rotation holes a concern despite opener-day win over White Sox

Randal Grichuk didn't show anyone up after this three-run home run, putting the Blue Jays ahead 3-1 over the visiting White Sox.

TORONTO – Unable to find a starter to cover for Clay Buchholz, freshly added to the injured list, the Toronto Blue Jays handed the ball over to reliever Daniel Hudson on Friday night against the Chicago White Sox.

Opener or bullpen day, Charlie Montoyo?

“I’m going to call it an opener,” the manager replied before using seven pitchers to get through a 4-3 victory. “Remember when I said at the beginning, I don’t want to use an opener if we don’t have to because that means the five starters are doing good? We’re not there now. So, we need to be creative with what we do with the pitching now.”

Euphemisms are fun, and who can blame Montoyo, tasked with finding 27 outs night-in, night-out, for using them? “Opener” sounds so much better than “scrambling to cover a game with an emergency bullpen day,” while “creative” doesn’t connote the same type of desperation that “making things up on the fly in a system bereft of options” does.

Really, though, they’re in a substantial amount of doody right now, even if lefty Clayton Richard returns from the injured list in time to cover the second of their two TBAs next week. Asked where they were looking to backfill the rotation’s needs, Montoyo replied, “it could be from someplace else, it could be from Buffalo, we’re just going to go day to day.”

Put through the euphemism translator, “going day to day” comes out as “no freaking clue.”

To be fair, the Blue Jays are actively trying to fill the void externally, although whether they’re seeking a stop-gap or someone more established isn’t totally clear.

A reliable innings-eater like James Shields would make some sense and the Blue Jays, surely, have checked in on him, but at the moment that doesn’t seem likely to happen. He’d need some time to build up anyway, as would a big fish like Dallas Keuchel, who, yeah, no.

Someone currently pitching and ready to hit the ground running is far more ideal given the urgent immediate need.

Internally, no one is pounding down the door, unless the Blue Jays are hoping one of Sean Reid-Foley, Jacob Waguespack or Jordan Romano comes up and pitches better in the majors than they are currently at triple-A Buffalo.

Prospect Patrick Murphy, who is on the 40-man roster, is pitching well at double-A but that would be an uncharacteristically aggressive promotion for this front office. And Ryan Borucki isn’t eligible to come off the 60-day IL before the end of the month, at the earliest, and he definitely won’t be rushed back from his elbow soreness. The same goes for Julian Merryweather, who is building towards a return to action from Tommy John surgery.

In theory, the Blue Jays can continue having bullpen games, but that’s a pretty good way to ruin the arms of the club’s relievers, who’ve more than carried their share of the work over the past couple of weeks. And if one of Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and Trent Thornton experiences a blip, they’d be left completely exposed.

This is how Mike Hauschild ends up on your team.

“It’s been a lot, but we’re up to the task,” Hudson said of the recent demand on the relievers. “The starters are doing as good as they can. It’s tough. Sometimes you go through stretches where a starter doesn’t seem to get through the fifth that often. It is what it is and us as a bullpen, we have to be there to pick that slack up a bit.”

The Blue Jays at least managed to make it work Friday.

Hudson allowed one run in one inning of work before Thomas Pannone, with 1.2 innings, and Sam Gaviglio, 2.2 innings, did most of the heavy lifting. Tim Mayza, Ryan Tepera, Joe Biagini and Ken Giles, handling the ninth for his 10th save of the season and 100th of his career, finished things off.

“I really had it planned out the way it happened,” said Montoyo. “We have enough arms – Elvis Luciano, Javy Guerra, Derek Law – so we should be fine for (Saturday).”

Randal Grichuk’s three-run homer in the first gave the Blue Jays their first lead since last Saturday in Texas, and tripled their output during Minnesota’s three-game sweep.

Teoscar Hernandez broke out of his recent cold spell with his first home run since April 18, but a move up the lineup to the No. 2 spot didn’t similarly jolt Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who missed a couple of good pitches to hit, including a belt-high fastball from Dylan Covey in the third that went for a groundout to second at 99.9 m.p.h. off the bat. He finished 0-for-4 including a double-play grounder with an exit velocity of 111.8 m.p.h.

Still, the move makes sense, both as a way to try and get Guerrero some better pitches to hit, but also to show some confidence in the 20-year-old slugger.

“He hasn’t gotten many hits but he’s had good at-bats and a I like the idea of him getting into the action, quick,” Montoyo said of the decision. “I like the fact that Vladdy has Smoak behind him and (Freddy) Galvis is hitting sixth now so Grichuk has some protection (too).”

Credit to the bullpen for soaking up nine innings and making the offence stand up. But this is still a pitching staff in desperate need of some help on a team with no clear path to getting it.

QUOTABLE: “Grich comes up to me and says, ‘Man, four walks, I’d love that.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’d love a three-run homer, too.’ I don’t know if it’s an accomplishment, it’s where we’re at in this game now. You get to certain counts, people want the strikeout, so they’re going to throw you their best pitch and the majority of the time it’s a borderline pitch and tonight I was able to lay off a few of them.” – Justin Smoak on walking a career-best four times.

“I’m lost for words. No. 100 is a big deal. A lot of hard work and a lot of ups and downs in my career and life. Just to get to that point, I’m very thankful for everybody that’s been there for me from Day 1, giving me my first chance. To close out games, it’s a dream come true and most definitely coming here, embracing me, it was a huge deal for me.” – Ken Giles on his 100th career save.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.