As Pannone joins Blue Jays, intrigue surrounds Monday start

Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons walks to towards the bullpen to make another pitching change during fifth inning AL baseball action against the Oakland Athletics in Toronto on Thursday, May 17, 2018. (Nathan Denette/CP)

TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays have been so short on innings lately that they’ve started relief pitchers while scouring independent leagues and minor-league fields for assistance.

Far from ideal for the team, but late Wednesday night this problem became a long-awaited opportunity for Thomas Pannone. The left-hander was on his couch in Buffalo playing video games when Bisons manager Bobby Meacham called to tell him to pack his bags for a promotion to Toronto.

“From that moment there, my heart started racing,” Pannone recalled in the dugout at Rogers Centre Thursday afternoon.

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Acquired from Cleveland in last summer’s Joe Smith trade, Pannone will provide the Blue Jays with length as a reliever. And though the Blue Jays may be leaning toward another starter for Monday’s start against the Royals, Pannone’s in the discussion for that assignment, too.

“Right now he’ll be coming out of the ‘pen,” manager John Gibbons said. “If something happens (Thursday) and we needed some innings, he’d be perfect for that. Down the road, we’ll see.”

The last year has included many highs and lows for Pannone, who received an 80-game suspension in March after testing positive for Dehydrochlormethyltestosterone, a banned substance under the MLB-MLBPA Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Now, the 24-year-old’s ‘ecstatic’ to be in the big leagues after six seasons in the minors.

“I’ve had crazy ups and downs,” Pannone said. “I went from having a great last year at double-A Akron with the Indians and then got traded here to the Blue Jays. I was added to the 40-man (roster) in the off-season, which was awesome and then got some pretty bad news in January, went through that whole process. Working through all that I had good days and I had bad days. I just couldn’t be happier that I’m here.

“The suspension was tough,” he added. “Those 80 days in Florida, I’m not going to ever say that that was easy, but I had great support around me.”

Pannone has made six starts at triple-A since being reinstated, posting a 4.91 ERA with the Bisons. He has been around the strike zone consistently, though, with 40 strikeouts compared to seven walks in 36.2 innings.

“I was sneaking my fastball past some guys, using my curveball and change-up as well,” Pannone said. “All three pitches I’ve been mixing pretty well, getting ahead of guys and pounding the strike zone. I think that’s what’s been working the most.”

The Blue Jays optioned Mike Hauschild in a corresponding move that creates an opening in the Toronto rotation for Monday, the first of four games against the Royals. If the Blue Jays don’t need Pannone in long relief over the next four days, he might get the call in Kansas City.

“He could be a candidate,” Gibbons said. “That’s how we envision him anyways–as a starter.”

Still, there’s a possibility that the Blue Jays need Pannone over the weekend, so they have to consider other options for that Monday start. As Gibbons said, “I’m sure there’s a couple. At least one of them, anyhow.”

That one would be Sean Reid-Foley, the 2014 second-round pick who now ranks 10th among Blue Jays prospects, according to MLB Pipeline. The right-hander has a 3.50 ERA in 15 starts with Buffalo while averaging 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings. While his command remains a work in progress, he has walked just 27 in 82.1 innings at triple-A. As such, Reid-Foley appears to be the leading candidate to start Monday.

“He’s starting to move in the right direction at a high level,” Gibbons said. “He’s viewed a lot like (Ryan) Borucki–part of the future. We’ve talked about using him, too. It’s going to happen eventually anyways. We don’t have anything definite yet.”

The next few days will help determine exactly how those pieces fit together. For now, Pannone’s in the big leagues and Reid-Foley’s chances of getting there soon have never looked better.

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