The Blue Jays signed Franklin Morales on the eve of opening day after he was released by the Milwaukee Brewers
Franklin Morales has been the forgotten arm in the Blue Jays major league bullpen picture. After recording just two outs in early April, the veteran left-hander was placed on the disabled list with fatigue in his throwing shoulder.
Wednesday marks day number 30 of his minor league rehab assignment, the maximum allowed for pitchers.
After two quick outings with the Dunedin Blue Jays where Morales struck out three in two innings, he moved up to the triple-A Buffalo Bisons where he has pitched since. He holds an ERA of 1.12 over eight appearances (8.0 IP), striking out five and walking four.
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Toronto has churned through several options behind Brett Cecil for their second left-hander – that’s when Cecil has been healthy – and as the trade deadline approaches they have yet to commit to one long-term. Aaron Loup is currently with the big club, but has allowed four runs and a pair of deep flies in his six MLB innings this season after a rough 2015.
The sample sizes of Loup, Cecil, Chad Girodo, and Pat Venditte are not nearly enough to draw conclusions for, but at this point in the year, the Blue Jays need some level of certainty. As a left-on-left option there was, and still is, a chance that Morales represents the strongest option.
Last year with the Kansas City Royals, Morales held a 3.18 ERA over 62.1 innings. his strikout numbers were not high – just 5.9 per nine innings – but along with strong control and home run management, Morales handled lefties very well.
In 107 left-on-left plate appearances, the Venezuelan held opponents to a .192 batting average and .558 OPS. For the sake of loose comparison, those numbers come in just below Loup’s career left-on-left stats of a .210 average and .579 OPS.
Complicating this situation is the calendar. If this were early June, the Blue Jays would have plenty of time to return Morales to their bullpen, get a temperature on his game, and assess their needs going forward. Pushing up against the deadline, however, the Blue Jays are looking at an arm who is still a relative unknown to them.
The recent Justin Smoak extension was another indication that the Blue Jays front office values depth and known commodities. Would a handful of major league appearances be enough to convince Toronto that their left-handed bullpen duo is suitable for a playoff run? More importantly, will Morales even get that opportunity?
With his $2 million salary for 2016 guaranteed and the likelihood that he appeals to other teams should Toronto attempt to keep him with the Bisons via waivers, it’s in the club’s interest to give him a major league look.
Morales is expected to pitch another rehab inning for the Bisons on Tuesday night against the Norfolk Tides.