As Chase Anderson debuts, importance of depth on display for Blue Jays

Boston Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo hit two home runs and robbed Travis Shaw of a home run in the 9th to lead the Red Sox over the Toronto Blue Jays 5-3.

Twenty-one pitchers started games for last year’s Toronto Blue Jays, and more often than not they left the mound disappointed. From veterans like Clay Buchholz and Edwin Jackson to journeymen like Buddy Boshers and Ryan Feierabend, the Blue Jays’ starting staff struggled badly in 2019. Combined, their ERA was 5.25, the worst mark in the history of the franchise.

After a year like that, the front office’s top off-season priority was clear: starting pitching. But even if their general direction was obvious, the specifics didn’t reveal themselves until early November, when the Blue Jays acquired Chase Anderson from the Milwaukee Brewers.

We now know that was just the first of many moves the Blue Jays would make to improve their rotation. And while Anderson’s season debut has been delayed until Saturday because of an oblique strain sustained late last month, the early returns on the revamped staff are encouraging. In a year where so little has gone according to plan for the Blue Jays, the relative stability of the starting rotation stands out.

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“It’s huge, man,” manager Charlie Montoyo said Friday. “You have a chance to win every day and that’s all you can ask as a manager, as a team. That’s how we feel: that we have a chance to win every day and that’s great. A big difference.”

Even after a disappointing start from Tanner Roark in Friday’s series opener against the Red Sox, the Blue Jays’ starting staff had an ERA of 4.41 through 11 games. Whether it’s frontline arms like Hyun-Jin Ryu and Nate Pearson, or rotation stabilizers like Roark and Matt Shoemaker, this rotation finally looks respectable.

After missing the first two weeks of the season with an oblique injury, Anderson is now ready to join the rotation, too. The injury occurred at training camp in Toronto and limited his ability to rotate the right side of his body comfortably.

“Too jacked, you know,” he joked Friday evening.

But after resting for a week and gradually building back strength ever since, he’s finally ready to make his Blue Jays debut a little more than nine months after getting traded to Toronto. The Blue Jays will be cautious not to overexpose Anderson, and with a 10-man bullpen they certainly won’t have to. Either way, the veteran of 160 big-league starts will be ready to eat some innings in start No. 161.

“I’m going to pitch until they take the ball out of my hand,” Anderson said. “I’m going to go out there and compete like I’m in mid-season form and when Charlie says my time’s done, my time’s done. For me to have the mindset of throwing as long as I can is more effective than knowing I only have three innings or four innings, whatever the case may be.”

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays don’t appear to be overly concerned about the status of Trent Thornton, who was placed on the injured list with elbow inflammation Thursday. Montoyo said Thornton “felt kind of weird” during a recent bullpen session, but the injury doesn’t appear to be overly serious.

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“I don’t see him missing that much time,” Montoyo said. “We have to be careful with him. He’s a young kid. If he wasn’t feeling right, we’re not going to rush him, but I don’t see him missing a lot of time. He should miss at the most one or two starts and that’s it.”

A year ago, when Thornton led the staff in games started and innings pitched, his absence would have been quite costly. Chances are decent that the Blue Jays would have replaced him with “an opener and a guy,” to borrow Montoyo’s phrase from a year ago.

Now, the Blue Jays miss Thornton but can still field a respectable rotation without him. And the quantity of arms available to Montoyo makes at least one aspect of his job far easier than before.

“You can never have enough pitching and this year it seems like we do right now,” he said. “That’s a blessing in baseball.”

At this point, the pitching staff looks as good as it’s been in a few years. The return of Anderson only helps on that front. But of course depth can be tested in any season, and these days it can disappear more quickly than ever. If that happens – or perhaps when that happens – the Blue Jays will have to adjust on the fly once again.

“2020 continues to throw curveballs,” Anderson said. “We just continue to make the adjustment.”

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