TORONTO — At a time when the Toronto Blue Jays need to start solidifying their pitching plans for the home stretch and set themselves for the post-season, they’re suddenly facing a whole host of fresh questions up and down the staff.
A second straight thumping from the New York Yankees – this one a 13-2 beatdown Wednesday which featured four homers in four innings off Tanner Roark – isn’t cause for alarm, although it does raise questions about their ability to contain a truly elite offence.
Outside of ace Hyun-Jin Ryu and Taijuan Walker, who in the rotation right now should the Blue Jays start in a game of importance? Chase Anderson, who starts Thursday’s series finale in the Bronx against Masahiro Tanaka, has been chasing his season since opening on the injured list with an oblique strain, and has allowed 10 runs in his last 6.2 innings.
Lefty Robbie Ray, due to start one of the four games this weekend against the Philadelphia Phillies, has front-of-the-rotation stuff and pedigree, but is still trying to get untracked after a miserable opening to the season. Ross Stripling, tentatively slated to start one of the games in Friday’s doubleheader, seems to be settling into a swingman role.
So, no obvious answer, which makes the live batting practice sessions thrown by Matt Shoemaker and Nate Pearson on Wednesday all the more intriguing. The next steps for them will be determined based on how they feel Thursday, but manager Charlie Montoyo said the Blue Jays had Shoemaker throw some extra pitches after he completed his two innings to set him for a quick return.
There isn’t enough runway to properly build him up for the rotation at this point, but he could potentially return as a starter capable of logging three-to-four innings, and then piggyback Pearson, who’d be in a similar boat, or Stripling behind him.
Given that there will be no off-days between games in each post-season series, the Blue Jays won’t necessarily be able to bullpen their way through a round in quite the same way. None of their relievers have pitched on three consecutive days yet, and the loss of Ken Giles back to a recurrence of his elbow troubles combined with Jordan Romano’s ongoing absence significantly thins out their late-game leverage options.
Some regression for Ryan Borucki and Anthony Kay, optioned Wednesday for rookie righty Hector Perez, means Montoyo doesn’t have the stable left-on-left weapons he did earlier this season, while Thomas Hatch and Julian Merryweather have been terrific but are still relatively untested.
Hence, as the Blue Jays work to lock down a post-season berth — two straight losses have allowed the Seattle Mariners and Baltimore Orioles to sneak back onto the radar — they also have to rethink how to most effectively distribute their innings.
A correction by Roark would certainly help, as the right-hander has now allowed six home runs over his last seven innings, all against the Yankees, who have won seven straight since avoiding a sweep in Buffalo last week.
Roark gave up two homers on four-seam fastballs and two on sinkers, with DJ LeMahieu going deep on one of each. Clint Frazier also got into a four-seamer while Kyle Higashioka turned on a middle-up sinker for the first of his three homers.
That’s now 14 homers in 39.1 innings for Roark, who last year gave up 28 in 165.1 frames. His velocity had been down about two m.p.h. on his fastballs so far this season, but he was closer to normal Wednesday, at 91.7 on his four-seamer and 91.3 on the sinker — up about one m.p.h. on both pitches, but down a tick at from the 92.1 and 91.9 he averaged last year.
A bit more offence, especially with the Yankees back at full strength after activating Aaron Judge on Wednesday, would help too, and the Blue Jays’ activation of Teoscar Hernandez earlier than expected should help in the days to come.
They hadn’t planned to bring Hernandez but when Derek Fisher got hit in the knee by Shoemaker during the afternoon’s live batting practice session, the outfielders swapped spots on the injured list.