TORONTO – A year ago, the Blue Jays allowed more runs than all but four MLB teams. Over the winter, run prevention was a stated focus for the team, yet the front office’s biggest additions came in the form of position players.
Within that context it’s at least a little bit surprising to see the Blue Jays leading the American League with a 3.07 ERA Monday as they prepare for a two-game series against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Clearly, this pitching staff is doing its part to keep the Blue Jays in contention despite a long list of pitchers on the injured list.
"We're hanging in games because of the way that we've pitched," manager Charlie Montoyo said. "They've done a great job to keep us in every game so far."
Many of those injured pitchers are making strides toward a potential return and in the meantime, the schedule might play to the Blue Jays’ advantage. With four of their next 11 days off starting Monday, the Blue Jays could theoretically maximize the contributions from their top three starters without overworking Hyun-Jin Ryu, Steven Matz and Robbie Ray.
It’s possible that trio of lefties could start seven of the Blue Jays’ next nine games. Here’s how it would work:
Monday, April 19 – Off
Tuesday, April 20 @ Red Sox – Ryu
Wednesday, April 21 @ Red Sox – TBD
Thursday, April 22 – Off
Friday, April 23 @ Rays – Matz
Saturday, April 24 @ Rays – Ray
Sunday, April 25 @ Rays – Ryu
Monday, April 26 – Off
Tuesday, April 27 vs. Nationals – TBD
Wednesday, April 28 vs. Nationals – Matz
Thursday, April 29 – Off
Friday, April 30 vs. Braves Ray
Saturday, May 1 vs. Braves Ryu
So is that kind of setup something the Blue Jays would entertain?
“Certainly considering that,” pitching coach Pete Walker said. “I won't lay it all out for you here, but we have the opportunity with the off days to make sure those guys are getting regular work and still getting some rest to be honest with you, which is nice. We're going to take full advantage of that.
"Hopefully other guys settle into other spots in that rotation but right now if we can use those guys we will."
At this point in the season it’s far too early to even consider using top starting pitchers on short rest, but this approach would allow at least four days of rest for all involved. In Ryu’s case, two of his next three starts would be with at least five days of rest.
“Any time we have an opportunity to do that, we’re going to do that for sure,” Walker said. “It’s early in the season. It’s April. When you’re thinking about a long season, making 30-plus starts for us, that’s what we envision. So (we want) to be smart when we have the opportunity to do it.”
Plus, some reinforcements should be re-joining the Blue Jays by the time they’re done with this stretch of days off. Walker expects Jordan Romano (ulnar neuritis) to be activated once he’s eligible on April 25 and barring setbacks Tyler Chatwood (triceps) will return even sooner.
Support for the rotation is further off, though. Nate Pearson is slated to throw live batting practice Tuesday as he works his way back from a groin strain and if the live BP session goes well, Pearson would keep building up his pitch count with the goal of helping the big-league rotation.
With so many injures, Trent Thornton has been thrust into high-leverage relief and team decision-makers like what they see so far. While they’re not ruling out the possibility of asking Thornton to start later this year, they like him in the bullpen for now, including some high-leverage spots.
"I'm not afraid to put him there,” Montoyo said. “He's becoming that guy."
“I still think he can be a very solid major-league starter, but he looks good out of the 'pen,” Walker added. “His makeup actually fits the 'pen when you look at him. He comes at you with arms and legs. A lot of moving parts to his delivery. And in a short stint, he's got some weapons."
Somehow, the Blue Jays have been making it all work so far. And over the next week and a half there’s a chance to use the schedule to their advantage while those injured pitchers work their way back.