Jays Pitching Questions: Where Will Reyes Land?

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There’s a lot going on in Jays camp when it pertains to pitching. The pen will get more detailed attention in another Jays Journal artcicle set to come out later today, but I thought that taking a look at Jo-Jo Reyes and his battle to make the rotation would be just as important.

The questions surround Reyes? Will he earn a spot as the #5 Jays starter? Will he go to the pen if he doesn’t? Will he instead be traded to another club? In short, where will Reyes land in 2011?

The Jays rotation is set to include the following front 4 pitchers:

John Farrell has stated that he feels it’s important to have pitchers in the rotation that provide opposing teams with different looks and that don’t allow hitters to get comfortable as a result. He likes having the option to go lefty-righty and to alternate between the two. However, as everyone can tell from the pitchers listed above, it comes down to either slotting in Jesse Litsch as the #5, which would give the Jays two RHP in the 4-5 spots, or placing Jo-Jo Reyes there and having a LHP as the 5th starter, and a LHP as the 1st, placing them back-to-back.

What have Reyes and Litsch done thus far in spring training?

  • Jo-Jo Reyes – LHP (27): 13 IP, 6 hits allowed, 2 HR, 3 walks, 8 Ks
  • Jesse Litsch – RHP (26): 17.1 IP, 17 hits allowed, 1 HR, 3 BB, 17 Ks

Both are outstanding performances, even if they are only spring training stats. So, both have earned the chance of being the last 2 considered for the last SP spot in the rotation. How do you pick between the 2? Well, in my opinion, you have to look at who is the better fit to begin the year in the pen, and who you may want to “show off” more in order to build up trade value. (wink-wink, nudge-nudge)

Complicating things even further is the fact that Carlos Villanueva has also been outstanding this spring (9.2 IP, 8 HA, only 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 Ks), so he seems to have earned a spot in the pen for the start of the season.

Reyes is set to take the mound against the Yankees on Wednesday, instead of Morrow who gets the minors game instead, as what Mike Rutsey of the Toronto Sun calls a test. He’ll be facing the big guns of the Yankees and that start could seal the deal in either direction. If he’s lights out, he could earn a look in the rotation. If he gets knocked around, he could be heading for the pen. The unlikeliest scenario has him being let go or traded before he can have a shot at building his value, but both are still available options.

The one thing that should wind up playing a HUGE part in this equation, however, is the fact that Jesse Litsch only threw 83.2 IP in 2010 after dealing with injuries for almost all of 2009. For his sake, and that of the Jays, it’s best for him to minimize his work load in 2011. Case and point should be Shaun Marcum, who returned from his injuries to have an outstanding 2010 season, but is now dealing with the consequences through shoulder issues that could set him back for quite a long time. Marcum threw 195 innings after throwing a mere 15 in the minors in 2009. Talk about an innings jump! As much as I like Marcum’s stuff , personality, and his 2010 performance, I have to believe that the Brewers took a massive risk in trading for him after knowing that his innings jump could lead to serious injury.

Reyes, meanwhile, actually threw less than Litsch in 2010 with just over 64 IP. But, the difference is that he has little trade value at this time and needs the opportunity to build it up. As a LHP with lots of promise always being attached to his name, a successful start to the season could make him a prime trade candidate. Simultaneously, the Jays would be allowing Litsch to minimize his innings jump by beginning the season in the pen, knowing full well that an injury or trade could have him in the rotation as soon as required. With Marc Rzepczynski now likely to be the 2nd LHP in the pen, it’s unlikely that the Jays want to begin the season with 3 lefties in the pen, and thus makes Reyes the more likely candidate to make the rotation IF he does well against the Yankees.

I really believe that keeping Litsch fresh for the June-end of season period is more important than having him pitch 170-200 innings and risk injury in the process. Although pitchers are always faced with injury risk, it’s not something the Jays should be chasing. Litsch has a good history with the Jays and has proven that he can pitch versus the AL East opponents in the past, so the Jays may be better off ensuring that he is capable of helping the team for the long term. It’s easy to get excited about his spring performance and to want to see him pitch a full season, no doubt about it. But, sometimes a team has to make tough decisions to ensure that what’s best for the team as a whole over the long-term is the action taken, not what may be best for today.

If Reyes can build up his trade value during the spring and no “new” injuries occur in the rotation, he could become one of the most sought after assets for Alex Anthopoulos to dangle to teams like the Cardinals, Mets, Brewers, and Royals (just to point out a few candidates that may be interested). He’ll never become that asset without a chance to prove himself. So, if he does well versus the Yankees, we may be able to scratch off the question of where Reyes will land in 2011. With the vocal and public support that Alex Anthopoulos gave him, there’s no doubt that he’s likely to get an opportunity in the pen or rotation, but my bet is on the rotation since it would give him a huge boost in trade value.

With Litsch in the pen to begin the season, the Jays pen would include the following members:

  • Rauch – Purcey – Frasor – Camp – Villanueva – Rzpeczynski- Litsch

This would still leave out Casey Janssen who would likely go to AAA. If he doesn’t, then one of Villanueva or Rzepczynski would. The injured Octavio Dotel and Frank Francisco could also force many future tough decisions to be made, but that only enhances the argument to have Reyes start and to prove himself quickly. The pen would have 2 lefties, and both Rzepczynski and Litsch could come on in relief and pitch multiple innings at any time, giving the Jays 2 very important and attractive options in long-relief.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Reyes does on Wednesday, as that will answer one of the biggest questions remaining in Jays camp this spring.

– MG

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Tags: Jesse Litsch Jo Jo Reyes

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