Marco Estrada following another former Brewer trying to transition into Blue Jays rotation


When Marco Estrada walked off the mound on Thursday afternoon, the Toronto Blue Jays could not have been overly encouraged with the outcome. After all, Estrada had just coughed up a 3-0 lead and left the game having surrendered 7 runs on 7 hits (3 doubles and 1 home run) in just 2/3rds of an inning of work. Needless to say, he didn’t do much to champion his cause to make the Blue Jays rotation out of Spring Training.

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Of course, one bad appearance isn’t necessarily going to throw his chances completely out the window either. Having pitched four other innings this spring, Estrada has been better, surrendering just 2 hits and 1 run (on another home run), while striking out 2 and not issuing a single free pass. That in itself is what the Blue Jays are expecting from Marco Estrada, and may be why his overall role may be more flexible than a singular designation of starter or reliever.

Of course, the Blue Jays have some experience in this matter as well. And as luck would have it, that experience lies with another former Milwaukee Brewers reliever that came to Toronto and made a bid to start.

Of course, Carlos Villanueva was four years younger than Marco Estrada when the Blue Jays purchased him from the Milwaukee Brewers prior to the 2011 season. Despite making the occasional start in Milwaukee, Villanueva was used primarily as a reliever with the Brewers, and his results out of the bullpen were decidedly better than they were as a starter. On the other hand, Estrada spent most of his career starting for the Brewers, but was thrust into a bullpen role late in 2014.

Now roughly the same age, Villanueva and Estrada have put up surprisingly similar peripherals over the course of their respective careers.

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Now, Villanueva found his way into a lot of swing duty with the Blue Jays during his time with Toronto, and not necessarily per the wishes of the pitcher himself. Toronto had envisioned Carlos in the relief role, but need always presented itself and he was thrust into the rotation more often that not. The results were not necessarily pretty, but they were useful at a time when the Blue Jays needed them most.

Obviously, a team with any goal of reaching the postseason would hopefully want more out of the fifth starter in the rotation. However, given their similarities, Villanueva may be a more apt comparison point than say, Jered Weaver (h/t Dave Cameron, Fox Sports). In particular, the home run rates seem to be an adequate marker, as Estrada has struggled to keep the ball on the ground, both in Milwaukee last season and thus far this spring. Having a pitcher with that tendency in Rogers Centre is a recipe for disaster, and the Blue Jays would be best served to limit the exposure as much as possible.

That may lead Estrada to walk a similar path to that of Villanueva, and bounce between the pen and the rotation as needed. Doing so with Marco Estrada certainly represents a much smaller risk than it does with prized prospects like Daniel Norris or Aaron Sanchez. If Toronto starts Norris (which would be doubtful) or Sanchez in the bullpen, they would require a few weeks at Triple-A in order to stretch back out, similar to what Marcus Stroman had to undergo a season ago.

So as much as Marco Estrada wants to win a spot in the Blue Jays rotation, it may not be in the club’s best interest to do so. History teaches us these lessons for a reason, and it is up to us to learn from them.

Next: Could Johan Santana be a dark horse for the Blue Jays?

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