Opportunity for Blue Jays to test out upper-level arms has arrived

Randal Grichuk made a diving catch with the bases loaded and hit a two-run single as the Blue Jays held off the New York Yankees 2-1.

NEW YORK – In the latest instalment of the ongoing Toronto Blue Jays melodrama, Man, Who’s Going to Cover Those Innings?, we have Clayton Richard exiting Saturday’s 2-1 win over the New York Yankees with left lat tightness after just two frames, the bullpen left to soak up the rest. Then, in a surprise ending, closer Ken Giles wasn’t available due to the lingering effects in his elbow of an all-star break massage.

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The severity of Richard’s injury wasn’t immediately clear as he was sent off for an MRI, “so we’ll find out,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. But with a hole in the rotation next Tuesday already in need of filling – Jacob Waguespack is expected to make that start – and the subtraction of Marcus Stroman looming, any absence right now is a concerning one.

As for Giles, he repeatedly stressed that the issue in his elbow was “nothing serious,” he was simply being cautious after experiencing some discomfort while playing catch Friday upon his return from the break, and that he hoped to be ready as soon as Sunday.

“I didn’t want to push it because pushing things can end very badly,” he said.

Yet, even though Giles insisted what he’s feeling now is unrelated to the elbow inflammation he experienced earlier this season – “completely different area,” he said – and that no imaging was needed, the timing is brutal for the Blue Jays given how the July 31 trade deadline looms.

“It’s not a pain, it’s just a little tingly, a little irritated right now,” said Giles, which is surely minor in comparison to what the front office is feeling.

On the rotation front, Ryan Borucki is on the verge of returning to the program, needing one more rehab start at triple-A Buffalo after fighting through some fatigue at the end of his last outing, and that will help the situation, regardless of what the outcome is for Richard.

But given this season’s trajectory, a logical plot progression is for the Blue Jays to simply spread their innings among the handful of upper-level arms they currently have in place. Waguespack is already set to get the ball against the Boston Red Sox next week, but this is the time to find out about Sean Reid-Foley, who’s on turn with Richard at Buffalo, and Thomas Pannone and even T.J. Zeuch, the 2016 first-rounder who’s made four starts so far with the Bisons.

Patrick Murphy is in that group, too, but he’s still at double-A New Hampshire getting used to a delivery tweak forced upon him because of a subtle rule violation, as is Julian Merryweather, although he hasn’t made a rehab start in two weeks after a pair of outings with single-A Dunedin.

Yennsy Diaz is a bit further down the depth chart but is making a push at New Hampshire, while Nate Pearson, fresh off an electric inning at the Futures Game, is an intriguing option, although at this point the sense is the Blue Jays leave him in double-A to keep building his physical base.

Either way, the Blue Jays have a pool of experimental characters they can write into the show, and as they begin thinking about 2020 and beyond, some real-time feedback on how they fit into the program would be ideal in their internal planning.

The price of that may be more afternoons like Saturday under an idyllic blue sky in the Bronx, when the bullpen is forced to step into the void and do the heavy lifting.

That manager Charlie Montoyo again described long reliever Sam Gaviglio as one of the team’s MVPs before the game demonstrates the erratic quality of starting pitching they’ve received so far this season. At 31 games and 62 innings, Gaviglio has thrown more than anyone on the staff save for Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and Trent Thornton, literally appearing in one out of every three Blue Jays games.

Having logged two innings the previous night, he was unavailable Saturday, which meant Nick Kingham was the first man in behind Richard. Impressively, he kept the Yankees at bay, as did Joe Biagini, Tim Mayza and David Phelps before Hudson had to work through trouble in the ninth, surrendering an RBI single to Aaron Judge before catching Luke Voit looking to end it.

“This is one of those games where as a unit we feel pretty fired up,” said Phelps, who broke 93 m.p.h. on five pitches — a first for him since returning from Tommy John surgery — while striking out three of the four batters he faced. “A lot of the times out in the bullpen, everyone feeds off each other, when guys are going good, a lot of times the whole unit is going well, if guys start struggling a little bit, it starts trickling down. At the same time, the one thing we’ve been doing really well is picking each other up. I expect (Sunday) Stro is going to go out and give us a pretty good start and make it easier on us.”

An episode turn came in the form of a two-out bloop single by Randal Grichuk in the sixth inning off Adam Ottavino, cashing in Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Cavan Biggio, who moments earlier completed a double-steal. It was the type of opportunistic baseball the Blue Jays hope to one day make a regular part of their repertoire.

The rally started off old friend J.A. Happ, who had kept things locked down through the first five innings. Consecutive one-out singles by Gurriel and Biggio, whose shallow blooper fell between a charging shortstop Didi Gregorius and a pulling-up left-fielder Brett Gardner.

That was it for Happ, who was part of last year’s Blue Jays selloff.

Like Stroman, Giles is positioned to be a prominent piece in this year’s selloff, and his soreness helped explain some unusual bullpen management by Montoyo leading into the ninth.

Mayza started off in the sixth and got through the inning cleanly, but then came back out for seventh, recording an out in the inning before departing. David Phelps took over and got two outs in the seventh and two more in the eighth before Hudson came in.

With Giles in play, each of the relievers would typically start a clean inning. Not this time after he “got some work done during the all-star break.”

“I’m just a little sore from it, still,” he continued. “We’re just being cautious. For me it’s just a little bit irritated. I’m just day by day right now. Hopefully I’ll be back on the mound tomorrow.”

Never a dull moment in Man, Who’s Going to Cover Those Innings?

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