New role means new routines for Blue Jays’ Joe Biagini

Joe Biagini was his normal hilarious self after his first career start, having some fun with the media about his preparation and outing.

TORONTO – The day after his first big-league start, Joe Biagini woke up and checked on his right arm. It felt sore, as it often does following an extended outing, but not all that much different than usual.

“I was thinking ‘oh, I could probably throw today,’” Biagini said.

That’s when reality set in for Biagini. Now that he’s a member of the Toronto Blue Jays’ starting rotation, his routines have changed—pitching on back-to-back days is no longer part of his job description.

“I realized I have a few days, so I should take it easy and prepare for my next one,” Biagini said. “It set in, and I was like ‘oh, maybe it’s a little more sore than I thought it was.’ It’s interesting just how powerful your mind is.”

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The Blue Jays moved Biagini to the rotation out of necessity last weekend, so he only got two days notice before facing the Tampa Bay Rays. That start, an encouraging outing in which he struck out four and allowed just one unearned run in four innings, set up a whole new challenge for Biagini: establish a routine that will allow him to thrive as a starting pitcher.

Biagini got started with a couple of days of heavy lifting. Between his gym sessions and some recovery work, his schedule got pretty busy even though he knew he wouldn’t be pitching. So busy, in fact, that he lost track of time altogether. By the second inning Tuesday, he realized he was sort of hungry and knew something must be off.

“I forgot to eat,” he said. “I was so concerned with everything—lifting, recovery stuff—and I was like ‘oh, I haven’t eaten today.’”

Then there’s the question of where to sit. After more than a year of watching games from the bullpen, he’s been joining the rest of the starting rotation in the Blue Jays’ dugout.

“He’s actually kind of quiet,” manager John Gibbons said recently. “I expected him to be talking all of the time.”

To be fair, Biagini has had a lot on his mind. By Wednesday, he was ready for a bullpen session, but he realized that he wasn’t precisely sure what he was trying to accomplish. After all, it had been a while since he last started in the San Francisco Giants’ system in 2015. To establish a sharper sense of purpose, he spoke to Marco Estrada.

“I used to struggle with this in the minor leagues,” Biagini said. “If I’m throwing at 75 per cent, how should I expect my pitches to come out compared to games?”

After two days of workouts and a bullpen session, Biagini took Thursday as a rest day in the hopes of being as strong as possible when he takes the mound against the Mariners. He’s hoping to complete five innings Friday while building up his pitch count beyond the 52 he threw against the Rays. Gibbons suggested that 70-75 pitches would be realistic, maybe even a little more if all goes well.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

With Russell Martin now on the disabled list, Biagini will be working with a new catcher, either Luke Maile or Mike Ohlman. Both have joined the team in recent weeks, but after catching Biagini in bullpen sessions, Maile has an appreciation for the right-hander’s delivery and array of off-speed pitches. If Maile’s the one catching Biagini, he expects to adjust his game-calling on the go.

“The hitters will give you the feedback,” Maile said. “When the hitters are giving you positive feedback on your pitches, you usually keep throwing them until they make an adjustment. If they start to put good swings on a certain pitch, then typically you’ll go away from it. It’s as simple as that.”

Injury depleted as the Blue Jays are, there’s real opportunity for Biagini in the rotation. While Aaron Sanchez will return from the disabled list Sunday, J.A. Happ’s not close to returning and Francisco Liriano’s now on the DL, too. More immediately, the Blue Jays’ bullpen could use a break after logging more innings than any AL team this season.

“You have a responsibility to this team,” Biagini said. “Stay in the game as long as possible and save the bullpen.”

It’s a much different challenge than the one Biagini faced as a reliever. And yet, after a week of adjustments, the most common piece of advice fellow starters have shared with the 26-year-old has been ‘don’t overthink it.’ With that in mind, he intends on treating his second MLB start as much like a bullpen session as possible.

“But then slowly transition your mindset into starting,” he said. “You don’t want to just switch it completely and change your whole mindset immediately, because you might depart from the things that were making you successful.”

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