CHICAGO — If you like weird baseball, it’s tough to top a left-handed knuckleballer.
There have only been seven of them in baseball history — none since Rich Sauveur in 2000. The best-known of the group, Wilbur Wood, had back-to-back 350-inning seasons in the 1970s. He won 24 games twice. Maybe most impressively, he once started both games of a double-header. Simply by taking the mound Saturday, Ryan Feierabend joined some exclusive company.
But the Blue Jays are in the business of winning games, and Feierabend wasn’t especially sharp in a rain-shortened 4-1 loss to the White Sox Saturday. Considering it was his first start in more than a decade, a little rust would be understandable. Still, the Blue Jays’ search for dependable starting pitching will continue a little longer.
Feierabend last started a major-league game in 2008 and last appeared in one six years after that. Since then he’s been in Korea refining the knuckleball that intrigued the Blue Jays this off-season and led to a minor-league deal.
To return to the majors after this long takes impressive perseverance.
“I get a lot of that from my mom and dad,” Feierabend said. “Growing up, my mom was really sick. Seeing her push through everything she went through challenged me to push myself in what I’m doing. I’ve been through Tommy John, had my shoulder scoped out. Just keep persevering and keep trucking, wait for the next opportunity to pitch at the big-league level.”
This opportunity arose because the Blue Jays needed pitching help once again. He lasted four innings, allowing four runs on seven hits while striking out two. It wasn’t a bad start, and at least technically speaking it was the Blue Jays’ first complete game since 2017, but it still wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Blue Jays replace him with Clayton Richard, who pitched 3.1 scoreless innings in a rehab start at triple-A Buffalo Saturday.
Regardless of what happens next week, Feierabend has every intention of establishing himself as a big-league contributor.
“It’s all about the ultimate goal of being here and being a regular in the big-leagues,” he said. “I haven’t had that great of success in the big-leagues and that’s why I sort of reinvented myself as a knuckleballer.”
A bullpen day would be another option the next time Feierabend’s rotation spot comes up Thursday. Either way, though, you’re facing the Red Sox. No ideal solution exists against that lineup.
The wait for further reinforcements will last a little longer. Clay Buchholz will have a follow up with Dr. James Andrews Monday for a second opinion on his injured right shoulder. While the severity of the injury isn’t yet clear, the visit to Dr. Andrews wouldn’t happen unless some concern lingered.
Ryan Borucki’s not close to returning either. Though the left-hander’s now throwing from 90 feet, he has yet to begin long-tossing or throwing off a mound. Reading between the lines, it’d be tough for him to debut at the MLB level before late-June.
Without those injures, the Blue Jays wouldn’t have had to call on Feierabend so soon, but here we are. This team has already used 10 starting pitchers this season, and that number would rise soon if Aaron Sanchez’s blister requires a stint on the injured list — a possibility he’s hoping to avoid.
In one small sense, the rain helped the Blue Jays. They’re in the midst of a 16-day stretch with no off days, so the shortened game functions as a de facto off-day for a bullpen that just provided six innings in relief of Sanchez.
At the plate, the Blue Jays were quiet, especially in comparison to their 10-run outburst Friday. Freddy Galvis doubled home Rowdy Tellez for the lone Toronto run, while Vladimir Guerrero Jr. singled up the middle and flew out to centre.
After Friday’s offensive outburst, Montoyo was hoping the weather would clear enough to give his hitters a chance to come back, but officials determined the field was unplayable, so the game was called after a three-hour delay.
“I thought we still had a chance, but mother nature said there’s no way we could play,” Montoyo said.
Meanwhile, there are still no clear solutions for the Blue Jays’ rotation. They’ve made history twice this week — first when Edwin Jackson played for his MLB-record 14th team and later when Feierabend joined the exclusive club of left-handed knuckleballers.
Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, neither start resulted in a win.