TORONTO — Exactly one week from Monday, the Blue Jays will pack their bags, leave behind their temporary home at the Rogers Centre hotel, and head to Boston for a pair of exhibition games. At this point, it’s still unclear whether they’ll get permission to return to Toronto.
Big picture, the uncertainty around the club’s regular season home looms large. But even as the Blue Jays wait for approval from the Canadian federal government, there are plenty of questions to answer between the lines. In that respect, the Blue Jays got a little clarity Monday with some positive news on the position player side and a setback for the rotation.
Early Monday afternoon, a flight from Florida brought the Blue Jays some reinforcements, including their projected left fielder, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Also on the flight were outfielders Jonathan Davis, Josh Palacios and Forrest Wall, pitcher Hector Perez and first-round pick Austin Martin.
As Hyun-jin Ryu and Tanner Roark faced off in the afternoon’s intrasquad game, Martin looked on from the first base dugout wearing No. 70 and appearing at ease as coaches and teammates stopped by to say hello.
From the other side of the diamond, Gurriel Jr. offered occasional encouragement from the stands. When new first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. stretched to complete a putout, Gurriel’s exclamations could be heard from hundreds of feet away despite the simulated fan noise the team’s now piping into the ballpark.
But even as those reinforcements arrived, the Blue Jays confirmed that Chase Anderson isn’t expected to be ready for the start of the season. While manager Charile Montoyo initially described the right-hander’s oblique injury as day-to-day, pitching coach Pete Walker revealed that Anderson will more likely miss a week or two after feeling a “twinge” as he was preparing to throw a live batting practice session.
Walker said Anderson felt good after playing catch Monday, but the club will now turn to the likes of Nate Pearson, Ryan Borucki, Anthony Kay, Thomas Hatch and Shun Yamaguchi for a replacement. Of that group, Borucki and Kay are the only two with MLB experience, but it’s Pearson whose long-term potential is considered most promising. That promise is apparent to Walker every time he watches Pearson pitch.
“Nate doesn’t have to do anything to impress us,” Walker said. “He’s really in a great place right now. He’s continuing to refine his stuff. He’s got a power arm, as we all know. His secondary stuff is really coming along nicely. He doesn’t have to do anything different than what he’s doing right now.
“Obviously Nate’s one of the top prospects in baseball, so he’s someone we’re thinking highly of and can’t wait to have at the major-league level,” Walker added.
Whether the Blue Jays open the season with Pearson remains to be seen, but the club would obtain an additional year of club control by waiting a week or so. With that in mind, some industry observers don’t expect Pearson in the majors until August.
Regardless of Pearson’s timing, the Blue Jays will have enough room in their bullpen to carry multi-inning relievers who serve as insurance in case a starter makes an early exit. According to Walker, the Blue Jays are even “considering and discussing” the idea of carrying piggyback relievers who follow designated starters.
“There’s a lot of scenarios we could go with,” Walker said. “Obviously we want to have the best arms we can, right?”
If the likes of Kay and Hatch don’t break camp in the rotation, they could conceivably contribute in that piggyback role. On paper, Julian Merryweather looks like another candidate to convert from the rotation to the bullpen – at least for now.
Beyond that mid-game group, Walker likes what he sees from late-inning relief candidates including Jordan Romano, Rafael Dolis and Anthony Bass. Ideally, that group would give Montoyo and Walker more options as they try to bridge the gap from the rotation to closer Ken Giles.
“We do have some power,” Walker said. “Compared to years past, we have some real power coming out of that ‘pen. Dolis looks outstanding. The fact that we were able to get him, a closer in Japan for a few years with 30-plus saves a year, he knows how to finish a game. His demeanor is impressive. His power, his sink, and he pitches up in the zone as well with a nasty split. He’s got some weapons to pitch in this league and to pitch effectively late.”
In recent years, the Blue Jays had far bigger problems than middle relief. Now that they expect to compete again, those details become more important – especially in a shortened season with so little room for error.