TORONTO – The 11th different pitcher to start a game for the 2017 Blue Jays didn’t do a whole lot to distinguish himself, and so the search for dependable starting pitching continues in Toronto.
To be fair, Nick Tepesch gave the Blue Jays 4.1 innings Wednesday, and his line looks a little better if Justin Smoak chases down a playable pop-up down the first baseline in the fifth. But Tepesch still allowed eight hits, including three home runs, as the Blue Jays lost 11-5 to the Yankees at Rogers Centre.
On Saturday, the search for dependable starting pitching will resume. The Blue Jays haven’t announced their starter, but they’re expected to call on a triple-A arm, perhaps Chris Rowley, to face the Pittsburgh Pirates.
With Aaron Sanchez’s timeline still uncertain and Joe Biagini in need of at least one more triple-A start, the Blue Jays have at least one rotation spot up for grabs.
“There’s an opportunity for someone to take advantage of it and see what they can do the rest of the year,” manager John Gibbons said Wednesday. “It’s kind of like a tryout.”
If this is a tryout, who’s making the team? Not Mike Bolsinger, who was designated for assignment after allowing seven consecutive Astros to reach base over the weekend. Not Cesar Valdez, who’s on the disabled list with a shoulder impingement.
So what about Tepesch? The Blue Jays do need a starter Monday against the Rays. Sanchez and Biagini won’t be ready by then, and Tepesch has the advantage of already being on the Blue Jays’ roster. In all likelihood his tryout will continue, 9.00 ERA or not.
“I don’t see why not,” Gibbons said. “I thought he did a solid job. He gave up a few solo home runs, but I thought he was aggressive. He attacked.”
Tepesch missed the entire 2015 season recovering from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, but returned to action in 2016 and started one game for the Twins this season before the Blue Jays purchased him from Minnesota July 24. In need of a starter against New York, the Blue Jays called Tepesch up from triple-A.
“I didn’t think it was horrible, but I didn’t think it was great either,” Tepesch said.
Granted, most teams face questions in their rotation this time of year. Rare are the clubs who make it through a season with six or seven starters like last year’s Blue Jays team.
The Yankees, for example, have a couple of reasons to be concerned about their Wednesday starter, Masahiro Tanaka. The right-hander’s season-long struggles with the long ball continued in the fifth inning when Jose Bautista homered. Making matters worse, Tanaka walked five hitters while recording just 12 outs.
For a Yankees team in the midst of a closely-packed wild card race, that’s discouraging—especially since the Toronto lineup isn’t exactly overwhelming. The Blue Jays, who entered play ranked 14th among the 15 American League teams in runs per game, rounded out their batting order Wednesday with Darwin Barney, Ryan Goins and Raffy Lopez.
Regardless, the Blue Jays made it interesting, forcing Joe Girardi to navigate the late innings as only he can. Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Dellin Betances and Adam Warren were up to the task, closing out the game without incident.
By way of contrast, the Blue Jays’ bullpen struggled. Leonel Campos and Dominic Leone were each charged with runs, and Taylor Cole allowed four in his big-league debut. On the positive side, the right-hander struck out Aaron Judge and got some jitters out of the way.
“It’s something that I’ve always dreamt of doing is playing in the major leagues,” Cole said. “Doing it here was very special. Just getting out there for the first time is something I’ll never forget. It was a great experience.”
All told, the Blue Jays used six relievers, including Danny Barnes, typically a higher-leverage option. As Gibbons put it, “the bullpen guys have been getting abused a little bit.”
Big picture, though, the starting rotation remains a bigger concern for the Blue Jays—in all likelihood one that will persist all summer and well into the off-season.