DL stint the best for both Estrada and Blue Jays

Marco Estrada talks with the media about the news that he will be placed on the disabled list and miss the 2016 All-Star Game.

TORONTO — In the days after Marco Estrada gutted through five innings of three-run ball against the Cleveland Indians—a painful, arduous, gutsy start in which he could barely bend over to pick the ball up off the mound before innings—the Blue Jays right-hander hasn’t been allowed to do much.

He went for an MRI the very next day, and on Monday he was sent for a series of cortisone shots in and around the inflamed sacroiliac and facet joints that have been causing shooting pain in his lower back. On Tuesday, Blue Jays trainers let him walk on a treadmill but do nothing more. He spent Wednesday hoping he’d be permitted to perform some light work on an elliptical. And come Thursday, he was planning to take the mound to pitch against the Detroit Tigers.

That simply wouldn’t do. So, for Estrada’s own good, the Blue Jays eliminated any possibility of that happening when they placed him on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to July 3.

“I thought I was going to be able to get through it. I definitely tried to find my way through it,” Estrada said. “But I think we’re doing the right thing now. It was kind of taken out of my hands. I was told, ‘listen, this is what you need to do. You’re going to have to go on the DL.’ I didn’t want to hear it. But I know this is the best thing to do right now.”

It really is—for both Estrada and the Blue Jays. With Drew Hutchison currently on the major league roster and lined up with Thursday as his regular start day, there’s a capable replacement already in house. Plus, next week’s all-star break and Toronto’s two off-days shortly after it allow the club to get creative with its rotation and essentially only miss one of Estrada’s turns in the rotation.

Of course, the all-star game itself complicates matters, as Estrada was deservingly selected to represent the American League in it for the first time in his career, and was eagerly looking forward to the opportunity. But Estrada’s body is still processing the cortisone, and it would be completely senseless for the team to allow him to potentially further aggravate his back by pitching in a game that doesn’t affect the win and loss column of the Toronto Blue Jays.

“We’ve got to worry about this team,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “I know he’s dying to pitch in the all-star game. It’s important to him. And he earned it. But this team is the priority right here.”

Estrada was disappointed to hear the Blue Jays plans, as anyone in his situation would be. On Tuesday, shortly after Gibbons told him he’d been selected to the team, Estrada spoke to the media at length about how long he’d wanted to pitch in an all-star game, and how proud his family was to see him finally accomplish his goal.

He talked about wanting to use the game to prove to young pitchers that you don’t need overpowering, high-90s stuff to get major league hitters out. “It means a lot to me,” he said, over and over.

On Wednesday, after being given the DL news, Estrada was somber yet accepting. He said he’d been kept awake most of the night prior, worrying that he might be placed on the DL.

“I haven’t had much sleep just knowing that there might be a possibility I don’t get the opportunity to pitch in this game. And I guess my worst nightmare unfortunately came true,” Estrada said. “But in the long run this is the right thing to do. And I think this is going to benefit me in the future.”

A silver lining for Estrada is that he’ll still get to attend the all-star game in uniform in San Diego next week, and that this time off may help him finally get over his back troubles, which he’s carried since spring training. Estrada was able to pitch through the discomfort rather effectively for his first 12 starts of the season. But he tweaked something further while taking at-bats in Philadelphia on June 15, and the pain grew progressively worse from that point on.

“My back still doesn’t feel very good but it’s getting better. It’s slowly improving,” Estrada said. “We still have a lot of games left to play and I need to be healthy for this team. So, right now, the best thing to do is to take some time off.”

Estrada will continue to be in “rest mode” with his back for the next several days. Once he starts to feel better, he will begin to ramp up activities and likely throw a side session at some point during his DL stint in order to keep his arm loose. Estrada generally doesn’t throw side sessions between outings, preferring to maintain the feeling he had in his most recent start and, as he puts it, “not waste too many bullets.” It’s something he learned from Mark Buehrle.

But during this stretch he’ll make an exception, as his next start likely won’t come until the club’s home series against the Seattle Mariners, which begins on July 22. Estrada would be eligible to return from the DL during Toronto’s trip to Arizona to play the National League’s Arizona Diamondbacks on July 19 and 20, but there’s zero chance the team is going to let him swing a bat again.

After Hutchison takes Estrada’s start on Thursday, the Blue Jays will use J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez and R.A. Dickey to get them through the weekend and into the all-star break. The team hasn’t decided the order of its rotation coming out of the break, but management is planning to meet to discuss it in the coming days and players will be informed prior to Sunday’s game.

Meanwhile, Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost will have to choose a replacement for Estrada on the American League’s all-star roster. Gibbons phoned Yost Wednesday afternoon to tell him the team was placing Estrada on the DL, and Yost told reporters later that day he had a shortlist of three or four pitchers in mind, one of them being Sanchez, the young Blue Jays starter. Naturally, Estrada know who he would choose.

“It’s not up to me, but if it were, I’d obviously pick a pitcher from this team,” Estrada said. “Sanchez and Happ have done extremely well. I really hope it’s one of them. If I have to give up my spot, I’d really like to see it go to one of my teammates.”

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