The Jays Need Better 4-5 Starters For a 2011 Run

The Jays rotation has been a mixed bag of tricks of late, topped off by the latest gem thrown by Brandon Morrow who has finally found his groove with another win yesterday. His velocity was great, his command was right on, and he had excellent movement when needed. He joins both Ricky Romero and Carlos Villanueva as a trio of Jays pitchers who have really become of the core of the starting group in 2011. It’s most evident when we display the results from last two times through the rotation for each starter as follows:

RHP Brandon Morrow:

  • 7 IP / 4 Hits / 1 ER / 3 BB / 10 Ks
  • 7 IP / 5 Hits / 3 ER / 1 BB / 9 Ks

LHP Jo-Jo Reyes:

  • 3.2 IP / 9 Hits / 6 ER / 1 BB / 5 Ks
  • 5.1 IP / 5 hits / 4 ER / 2 BB / 2 Ks

RHP Zach Stewart:

  • 6 IP / 9 Hits / 2 ER / 1 BB / 4 Ks
  • 3.2 IP / 10 Hits / 5 ER / 3 BB / 2 Ks

RHP Carlos Villanueva:

  • 6 IP / 5 Hits / 2 ER / 1 BB / 3 Ks
  • 7 IP / 7 Hits / 2 ER / 0 BB / 3 Ks

LHP Ricky Romero:

  • 9 IP / 4 Hits / 0 ER / 2 BB / 5 Ks
  • 7 IP / 6 Hits / 2 ER / 2 BB / 4 Ks

It’s pretty clear that two of these things are not like the others! First of all, Romero belongs in the All-Star game, there;s no doubt in my mind. Second, the Jays have benefited from great outings 3 games in-a-row each time the rotation heads to Villanueva, Romero, and Morrow, but has really had to work the pen when Reyes or Stewart were on the mound. Although the lack of run production remains one of the biggest issues plaguing the Jays of late, it’s clear that changes needed to be made to the rotation as well.

Brett Cecil is already on the way to start in place of Stewart, so we’ll have to wait and see how he fares upon his return. He should be more than fired up and ready to prove himself once and for all, so I’m really hoping that he makes good on his talents and sticks in the rotation. If he can allow 3 runs or less while going 6 strong most nights, he will be a better asset to the Jays than either Stewart or Reyes would be in the rotation.  One interesting note with the addition of Cecil is that he brings the Jays to having 3 LHPs in the rotation. With the pending probable addition of RHP Jesse Litsch in the near future, Jo-Jo Reyes may very well be the next to go from the rotation (thank goodness). He could take a spot in the pen, likely that of Luis Perez, who still has options remaining and can return to Las Vegas.

That being said, Reyes could also be moved or released. I doubt he would bring much return at this point, after 2 horrible starts, but he has improved a great deal from the beginning of 2011, so a team that needs a long-relief LHP could be interested. With the struggles of ex-Jays reliever Brian Tallet in St-Louis, they come to mind as a possible landing spot for him.

Other Possible Additions to the Rotation

Jesse Litsch

If we consider the rotation as consisting of Romero, Morrow, Villanueva, Cecil, and Litsch, it stands to reason that the Jays should have a great shot at winning games on any given night. The pen should not be as taxed on the nights that Cecil and Litsch throw in comparison to nights when Stewart and Reyes threw (of late). So far in AA, Litsch has only allowed 6 hits and 1 ER in 8.2 innings of work while walking none and accumulating 9 Ks. The Jays are pretty well guaranteed to get 5 innings or more from Litsch every night, and now that he’s healthy again he could become a big piece of a winning run for the Jays as their #4 or 5 starter.

Joel Carreno vs. Henderson Alvarez

Since we can pretty well forget about seeing Kyle Drabek until August at a minimum, we have to begin to consider the possibility of the Jays promoting either Carreno or Alavarez at some point in 2011. Would it be rushed? Sure, but you can bet that each of them would love to get a taste of what it’s like to pitch in The Show after representing the East in the Eastern League All-Star Game. Since Carreno is already on the 40-man roster, I expect he will get the first look and at 24 years old, he should be more than mature enough to handle the pressure.

It also doesn’t hurt that over his last 10 games in AA, Carreno is 6-2 with a 2.09 ERA, only allowed 29 hits in 60.1 IP, did walk 35 however, and has accumulated 82 Ks! Double-A hitters have a lowly .142 average against him over that span and 8 of his last 10 games were Quality Starts.

Therefore, if Litsch does get the call to replace Reyes in the rotation and falters or re-injures himself, I fully expect Carreno – or AAA’s Brad Mills – to get the next shot at the rotation. With his swing and miss stuff, he definitely is an intriguing prospect. If he does well and is eventually joined by Henderson Alvarez, it makes you question whether or not Drabek will get another shot at all in 2011. He may if he turns things around drastically, but at this point, I’m not expecting to see him in Toronto for a long time.

Dustin McGowan

I want someone out there, anyone, to point out to me one pitcher who has gone through the intensive and extremely invasive surgeries that McGowan has and has returned as a successful starter. If you do, I will give you full props for it, because I can’t think of one. Yet, the Jays find it the wisest decision to attempt to have McGowan return as a starter, something that I believe ensures that we will NEVER see McGowan pitch in Toronto again.

Just take a look at the difference between Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. One accepted his fate, went on to become a reliever, and resurrected his career as a result. The other didn’t, stubbornly tried to come back as a starter over-and-over again, and he is still injured as he finally saw the light and decided to head to the pen. He has had some forearm issues while trying to return, and my “non-expert” mind tells me that it may be due to his mind telling him to take it easy on the shoulder, taxing his forearm and elbow as a result. He’s still hitting the 94-96 MPH marks, so he has all of the Jays officials in a huff and a puff about making him a starter….

My message to Dustin and the Jays: I don’t care if Dustin can hit 105 MPH on the radar gun, put him in the pen and have him return to Toronto healthy!!! If you don’t, I don’t expect to see him in Toronto at all. And if he does make it by some miraculous twist of fate, then I would predict that it won’t be for long at all.

I’m a huge Dustin McGowan fan, so I don’t say this easily, but it’s what makes the most sense on both sides. The odds of his returning as a viable starter are just too lop-sided to make it a worthwhile risk.

Final Take

If the Jays can get their #4 and 5 starters sorted out and to a higher quality than what they’ve had for the majority of 2011, they could make a run in the second half of the season. I seriously doubt that this would mean a wild card spot or division title for the Jays, but it would set the tone for 2012 and would ensure that winning is already bred into and expected in the clubhouse. At this point, it seems like the Jays don’t really know if they’re anything better than a .500 club. I say that if they make the appropriate changes to the rotation, there’s no reason that they can’t end up well over .500 and with a better record than they had in 2010.

The Jays need 2 more starters to make a run in 2011. Whether or not that resolved with Cecil, Litsch, Mills, or Carreno, I truly hope that they make the changes when necessary and demand more from their #4 and #5 starters than they have demanded – or expected – thus far in 2011. They have the depth pieces to make such demands, so why not use them and push them to exceed their own expectations as a result?

– MG

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Tags: Brad Mills Brandon Morrow Carlos Villanueva Henderson Alvarez Jo Jo Reyes Joel Carreno Kyle Drabek Ricky Romero Zach Stewart

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