The Toronto Blue Jays have stayed afloat through the first third of the season with an excellent starting rotation, something few expected.
Toronto’s starting staff currently ranks seventh in baseball with a 3.51 ERA and leads the league with 356.0 innings pitched. Add in an opponent’s batting average of .231 that has the Blue Jays ranking fourth, and there’s a lot to love.
In triple-A Buffalo, the Bisons have been mirroring the big club. Drew Hutchison has already jumped up for a spot start and has improved his ERA to 2.93 over 10 starts in the International League. There are two southpaws earning consideration, too.
Wade LeBlanc has been one of the most effective starting pitchers in the minor leagues, owning a 1.29 ERA with 58 strikeouts over 62.2 innings pitched.
LeBlanc spent his 20s bouncing around, pitching at the major league level for five different organizations (Angels, Yankees, Astros, Marlins, Padres). Last season, at age 30, LeBlanc took his talents overseas where he signed with the Seibu Lions of the Japan Pacific League. In Japan, LeBlanc made eight starts with a 4.23 ERA.
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Something has clicked for the left-hander, though. Of course, this could be the classic case of a quadruple-A pitcher that a team values greatly in triple-A, but is hesitant to use at the next level. Blue Jays fans saw this with the veteran Randy Wolf in 2015, where the 38-year-old went 9-2 with a 2.58 ERA over 139.2 innings but was consistently leapfrogged to the major leagues by younger, more projectable arms.
Scott Diamond has proven to be a quality depth addition as well. The Canadian who once appeared to have a promising future has been working to reinvigorate his curveball, and holds a 3.06 ERA over his first 11 starts. Last night against the Columbus Clippers, Diamond pitched eight shutout innings with two strikeouts and no walks.
These two arms are not about to force their way onto a roster, but the past five years have shown that the Blue Jays are likely to use one or both at some point. Furthermore, they’re likely to need one for three or more starts.
Hutchison remains the next man up for the Blue Jays, and in a last-minute bind, a bullpen arm like Jesse Chavez could surely chew through the first few innings of a ‘pen game. There is a great deal of value in the level just beyond that, though.