Blue Jays re-set rotation with Ray in line for Yankees, possible wild-card game

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TORONTO – With just 16 games remaining in the regular season schedule, the Toronto Blue Jays must weigh considerations on multiple fronts as they structure their pitching staff for the final two-plus weeks of the year.

Not only do the 82-64 Blue Jays need to continue playing well to be sure they qualify for the playoffs, they must also put themselves in a position to succeed if they get there. Viewed through that lens, the team’s decision to re-structure the starting rotation takes on added significance and a path ahead toward a potentially chaotic finish emerges.

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Of course, manager Charlie Montoyo doesn’t frame it that way. Speaking to the media before Friday’s series opener against the Minnesota Twins, Montoyo said he’s simply focused on the game ahead of him – nothing more, nothing less.

The way he sees it, Alek Manoah could use a couple of extra days as he pitches deep into his first big-league season. And if the ensuing shuffle happens to line Robbie Ray up for a potential wild-card game on October 5th, so be it.

“Just a breather,” Montoyo said from the third base dugout. “It’s (Manoah’s) first full year. We’ll give him a couple of days.”

“Honestly it was about Manoah and keeping Robbie Ray (on his turn). Everybody else gets extra days.”

Jose Berrios threw on the field at Rogers Centre Friday afternoon with no issues, which means the left abdominal issue that bothered him Tuesday won’t prevent him from making his next start. He’ll pitch Sunday against his longtime team, followed by Ray on Monday and Manoah on Tuesday.

What’s interesting is where that rotation would lead the Blue Jays in a couple of weeks’ time. If Ray keeps pitching every fifth day he’d also line up to pitch against the Yankees on September 30th – a potentially critical chance for the Blue Jays to simultaneously add to their own win total and the Yankees’ loss total.

Ray would also line up to pitch in the wild-card game on October 5th, and considering how dominant he’s been en route to an American League-leading 2.64 ERA, the Blue Jays couldn’t hope for a better option in a must-win game.

Meanwhile, Berrios would also line up as an option to face the Yankees on regular rest in the penultimate series of the season – it would just mean bumping Steven Matz back a couple of days until October 1st, 2nd or 3rd against the Orioles. That option could have appeal to the Blue Jays not only because those Yankees games are so critical, but because it would allow Berrios to pitch a possible Game 163 if a tiebreaker is needed with the Yankees or Red Sox.

Manoah has completed 93 innings on the season, including eight in his most recent start against the Rays. This isn’t the first time the 23-year-old has approached 100 innings as he also logged 125.1 between college and the minors in 2019. While he’s not on an innings limit, the Blue Jays monitor fatigue levels for all of their pitchers as the season progresses.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

For an organization whose stated goal is winning the World Series, this kind of medium-term planning is necessary. What’s the point of reaching the playoffs if your pitching staff is in disarray by the time you get there?

Yet as the Berrios scare showed, it doesn’t take much to upend the best-made plans. One injury would undo all of this planning and force the Blue Jays to start the planning anew. Or, if they continue their current hot streak and they’re able to clinch with a day or two remaining in the season, they’ll be able to use someone like Thomas Hatch to close out the regular season and rest their top arms for the playoffs.

Either way, with two-plus weeks remaining, there’s still plenty enough time for changes in circumstances to force further adjustments. Until then, they have their pitching staff lined up just the way they like.

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