Who makes most sense as Blue Jays’ opening day starter?

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons confirms that Marcus Stroman will not start the season opener vs. the Yankees, as the club wants to play it smart, but doesn’t rule out a start later in the series.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Marcus Stroman had been looking forward to facing the New York Yankees on opening day, but shoulder inflammation has delayed his 2018 debut and now the Toronto Blue Jays will have to begin the season with someone else on the mound.

So who will get the opening day start? Granted, it’s not a question that will make or break the 2018 Blue Jays, but it’s at least an interesting discussion with little more than two weeks remaining before the opener.

When John Gibbons was asked who would replace Stroman Monday morning, he kept his options open.

“We’ll see,” he said. “We could go with any of them.”

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At this point in the spring, that’s technically true. Realistically, though, some candidates are more compelling than others once you take a closer look…

Jaime Garcia

Last start: March 10
To line him up for the opener: The Blue Jays would have to start Garcia on five days’ rest twice this month and on six days’ rest once.
Verdict: It would be both bizarre and inconvenient to make Garcia the opening day starter. Bizarre, because he has never pitched a regular-season game for them and inconvenient since it would mean altering his schedule to mix in additional rest days. We can rule out Garcia, even if Gibbons says it could be anyone.

Aaron Sanchez

Last start: March 8
To line him up for the opener: The Blue Jays would have to mix in one extra day of rest for Sanchez between now and March 29.
Verdict: Logistically, this would be easy. Plus, Sanchez has never had an opening day start, and in a way it’d be a nice honour. But do the Blue Jays want to add pressure for a pitcher who has quietly put together an encouraging spring? Sanchez has already had to answer more than his share of blister-related inquiries, and asking him to start the opener would only add to the scrutiny. There’s a strong case to be made for starting him later in the Yankees series instead.

Marco Estrada

Last start: March 9
To line him up for the opener: Estrada would have to pitch in a minor-league or simulated game on the Blue Jays’ upcoming off day March 14. Otherwise he’s lined up for the opener on regular rest.
Verdict: Estrada has been integral to the Blue Jays’ success in recent seasons, and Gibbons has spoken at length about the right-hander’s ability to step up in big games. He got the opening day start last year, then posted a 4.98 ERA during an up-and-down season. The Blue Jays could conceivably ask Estrada to start another opener, but someone else deserves serious consideration, too.

J.A. Happ

Last start: March 12
To line him up for the opener: Happ would have to start on five days’ rest twice this month and on regular rest once.
Verdict: Aside from Stroman, Happ was the Blue Jays’ most effective starter in 2017, when he posted a 3.53 ERA in 25 starts. He has never started on opening day for the Blue Jays, not even last year when he was coming off of a 20-win season, and this could be a chance to recognize his contributions.

“It’d be great,” Happ said Monday. “I’d be honoured to take the ball. But we’ll see what they want to do. I haven’t been told anything either way officially.”

Maybe it’s not ideal to have a lefty face power right-handed bats like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez, but that’s life in the AL East. Plus, from a timing standpoint this would work for Happ, who threw 70 pitches Monday. He could ramp up to 85-90 pitches in his next start before coming back down to 50 or 60 for his final outing.

All things considered, then, Happ still looks like the best candidate to start the opener.

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