Flimsy rotation not helping struggling bullpen

The Toronto Blue Jays wasted a quality start by Drew Hutchison and fell back to the .500 mark by dropping an 11-4 decision to the Baltimore Orioles.

TORONTO – The state of affairs in the Toronto Blue Jays rotation is such that Drew Hutchison making it through six effective innings, the way he did in Thursday’s 11-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, is an accomplishment.

Through the first 22 games of the season, their starters have only managed to do that 10 times, six of them belonging to Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey. Those outings have been crucial counterbalances to the six games in which Blue Jays starters have logged 4.1 innings or less.

Still, the rotation once again isn’t carrying enough of the load, and until it does, no one should be surprised when the bullpen implodes the way it did while trying to nurse home a lead for the third time in a week Thursday.

The Blue Jays already had 99 problems, is the cumulative workload of the bullpen becoming another one?

“Bullpens get used a lot, I don’t care whether you’re good or bad, in this day and age that’s baseball, because mainly it’s a lot of one-inning guys, specialists,” said manager John Gibbons. “They get used a lot, but that’s the way it goes. You’ve got to be durable down there and you’ve got to take your lumps, but it can definitely catch up with you. It’s too early in the season to think that’s got anything to do with it.”

Regardless, change will be coming to the rotation and soon if the starters don’t get their act together, and the ice is obviously thinning under Dustin McGowan. Gibbons confirmed that the right-hander will make his next scheduled start Tuesday at Kansas City, but as for what happens afterwards, it’s “we’ll see what happens.”

In three of his four starts McGowan has lasted four innings or less, and after he admitted to fatigue past the 60-65 pitch mark following his outing Wednesday, Gibbons admitted after some prodding that it bothered him “a little bit, no question.”

With the Blue Jays already carrying an eight-man bullpen they can’t keep fresh, and a stretch with only four off-days from April 29 through July 13 when the all-star break hits, there’s no more time to be pussyfooting around.

Sure, the Blue Jays are kicking around employing a six-man rotation periodically over the next 2½ months to “create our own off-day by spot-starting somebody in there like (J.A.) Happ.” But that they feel it’s necessary at all is another sad comment on the rotation’s fragility, and underlines how untenable things are.

That’s why you have to believe McGowan is on the clock, especially with the organization looking for an opportunity to bring up Marcus Stroman, who has a 2.18 ERA and 11.3 strikeouts per nine in four starts at triple-A Buffalo.

May 4 in Pittsburgh would be McGowan’s next scheduled turn after Tuesday in Kansas City, and GM Alex Anthopoulos much prefers that rookies debut on the road.

If they still wanted to, the Blue Jays could then slip J.A. Happ in for a spot start May 5 in Philadelphia – a date Gibbons mentioned – giving the rotation an extra day of rest, a concept the team really seems into.

“It bumps everyone else back, just for the sake of those other guys,” he said. “We haven’t committed to that yet but we’ve talked about that. And in reality, you can do that for the next couple of months. We’ll see.”

For now that’s all percolating in the background, and the gruelling schedule that looms may soon magnify the disappointment of letting so many winnable games slip away over the past week.

Last Thursday’s implosion in Minnesota – remember that eight-walk eighth? – could be explained away by a bitter cold that left pitchers unable to feel their hands. Last Sunday’s collapse in Cleveland when Aaron Loup issued three two-out walks ahead of a bases-clearing, go-ahead double by Daniel Murphy could be attributed to overwork.

The mess against the Orioles, when Brett Cecil inherited a runner at second with one out and a 3-2 lead in the seventh, proceeded to load the bases and watch Chris Davis shoot an 0-2 pitch through the shift to trigger a five-run outburst?

Pick your explanation: hangover from last season, cumulative work load this year, simply a bad spell. They all apply, but if it’s indeed lingering after-effects from 2013, then a perceived strength of this Blue Jays club will be sapped and that’s real worrisome.

“I believe in that,” Gibbons, speaking in general terms, said of potential bullpen hangovers. “Over time you look at it, a lot of times it’s year to year, guys that have good years and are used a lot one year, it’s usually somewhat of an off-year the next year, then they bounce back.”

That’s a scary thought, as is the need for one mop-up man to mop up for the other mop-up man, the way Todd Redmond did for Esmil Rogers on Thursday. If the eight-man bullpen that’s tying Gibbons’s hands and limiting an already flawed bench isn’t enough, then the Blue Jays are in some trouble.

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.