TORONTO – A pathway to the starting rotation for Nate Pearson – or someone else if the Toronto Blue Jays are intent on manipulating their top prospect’s service time – is open after Chase Anderson suffered an oblique strain and is uncertain to be ready for opening day.
Manager Charlie Montoyo says the club still plans to deploy a five-man rotation, which is set to include Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, Matt Shoemaker and Trent Thornton, who ripped through a roughly-60-pitch live batting practice session Sunday.
Given the way he pitched during the first spring training, the work he put on from then to now, and how he impressed again during an intrasquad outing Saturday, Pearson would seem like an automatic in light of Anderson’s injury.
But, since the Blue Jays can push his free agency back a year by assigning him to the club’s Alternate Training Site for about a week, he’s far from a lock to break with the team.
“They’re going to compete for that spot,” Montoyo, without specifying names, said of the club’s young pitchers. “I love the fact that all these guys know they are competing. We’re building them all up, so they’re all going to have a chance to compete. We’ll see where we go a week and a half from now. Other stuff can happen from here to when we start, as you know.”
Beyond Pearson, left-handers Ryan Borucki and Anthony Kay and righty Thomas Hatch are the likeliest other contenders, although the Blue Jays are trying to stretch out other pitchers, too.
“It’s a crazy year, as you know,” said Montoyo, “and we’ve got so many options, which is great for all these kids because they’ll be competing for a spot if Chase is not ready by the time this season starts.”
Anderson hurt himself while loosening up ahead of a recent bullpen and Montoyo said the veteran right-hander was already built up for 3-4 innings of work, building toward more ahead of opening day.
Montoyo described him as day-to-day.
THORNTON SHARP: Trent Thornton knows better than to take a place in the Blue Jays rotation for granted but he had essentially sewn up a spot during the spring training and he’s right back where he left off at summer camp.
The sophomore righty looked sharp in throwing an estimated 50-60 pitches Sunday, routinely generating poor contacts and awkward swings. He came away pleased with how he felt physically and, after snapping off a pair of pretty curveballs to catch teammates looking, with how he manipulated his pitches.
“I thought I executed pretty much all my pitches,” said Thornton. “Elevated fastball was definitely a point of emphasis today, I thought I did a decent job with that. As far as my off-speed, breaking balls, changeup, cutter all felt really, really good, and felt like I got to accomplish a lot of what I wanted to.”
Thornton was able to throw throughout the shutdown, getting a key to the field from his high school coach so he could get his work in. His dad gave him a weight set for his garage while a trainer allowed him to work out in isolation at his gym.
“I feel great,” he said. “I don’t feel like I missed a beat at all. Within another week or two, I feel like I can just let the reins off.”
UNCERTAIN SHUN: Shun Yamaguchi arrived at spring training determined to win a spot in the Blue Jays rotation but appeared to be destined for the bullpen.
“Same as March. I still haven’t gotten a formal notice on what type of role I’ll be playing in,” Yamaguchi, in comments interpreted Yuto Sakurai, said after logging 30-35 pitches during a couple of innings of live batting practice. “For me, I personally do want to be in a starting role so I’m trying my best to get the fifth spot.”
As things stand, it would appear he has some work to do for that to happen.
Yamaguchi allowed nine runs over nine innings with five walks and six strikeouts in four Grapefruit League games as he transitioned to the North American game after 14 seasons in Japan, and the thinking then was that his stuff would be best utilized in relief.
“At this point, to be honest with you, I’ve been able to adjust to the ball and I have a limited amount of time left until the regular season, so I can’t really be talking about the ball slipping out of my hand and whatnot,” said Yamaguchi. “Every day I’m trying to adjust and throw the ball better.”