TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays will activate Matt Shoemaker from the injured list to start Monday’s series opener against the New York Yankees, lining the right-hander up to pitch in the potential third game of a first-round playoff series.
Manager Charlie Montoyo confirmed the decision Sunday night after a 6-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies ended a season-high six-game losing streak. Tanner Roark, who was to start Monday, will instead pitch Tuesday, with the Blue Jays leaving Wednesday and Thursday up in the air.
“We give the other guys an extra day and (Shoemaker) is ready to go,” said Montoyo. “He’s not going to have a lot of pitches but he’s ready to go.”
Though Montoyo was being coy, ace Hyun-Jin Ryu is sure to start Thursday in order to keep him lined up to start a potential playoff opener Sept. 29, with Taijuan Walker set to follow him in a second game.
Shoemaker, who suffered a right strain Aug. 21 against the Tampa Bay Rays, is built up to the 50-60 pitch range, said pitching coach Pete Walker, and the Blue Jays need him after getting blitzed 43-15 during a three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium last week.
The stakes will be higher in the rematch as their magic number to clinch a playoff spot sits at four, and how they adjust in Buffalo, be it in terms of game-plan or execution, will be closely watched.
“Going back to a series like that, I’ve never seen anything like that,” coach John Schneider, who is responsible for the catchers, said over the weekend. “Some of it is you run into a team that had won a few in a row before we even got there, that got a lot of their big-time power guys back at the same time and we kind of just ran into a buzz-saw a little bit. Then you look back at the execution and compare what our notes and what our plan was going in. I’ve always said and Pete says, if we get beat on a well-executed pitch that we think was going to get them out, then we would rethink the way we’re going to attack them. If it’s something that wasn’t executed or a spot missed, maybe the wrong place at the wrong time, that’s the game of baseball. That’s the give and take of the adjustments you make every day.”
Shoemaker threw a live batting practice Wednesday that “was exceptional, stuff was there, velocity was there, spin on the breaking ball, the split,” according to Walker, and his fifth day is Monday. His next outing would be Saturday versus the Baltimore Orioles on the penultimate day of the regular season, and then again in a Game 3 of a first-round playoff series.
More help could be on the way, too, as Nate Pearson (flexor strain) is slated to throw a live batting practice Monday in Buffalo, when the Blue Jays are “anticipating a couple of innings,” said Walker.
“Everything has trended in the right direction,” he continued. “The velocity is there. He feels really good. He’s recovering well. So I’m anxious to see him (Monday) and then we can then make a decision after that, move forward. He’s someone who if everything’s good, he’s feeling good, we can certainly use and he could help us out for sure, as we know.”
Without enough time to rebuild him as a starter, the Blue Jays are looking at the electric-armed righty to come out of the bullpen in a role akin to the ones filled by Thomas Hatch and Julian Merryweather where “we can utilize that velocity and his ability to throw strikes,” said Walker.
Reliever Jordan Romano (pulley strain in right middle finger) is also moving in the right direction, getting off a mound for a “touch and feel” side session. There’s still work to be done, but Walker said the reports on the leverage righty “are really good, they’re encouraging.”
“We’re building him up with the hopes of him helping us out,” he continued. “We still feel very hopeful. It will be great to see him (Monday) and have a good conversation and get a real good feel of exactly where he’s at.”