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Blue Jays: The rotation picture comes into focus

Brendan Panikkar
Mar 11, 2017; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Marco Estrada (25) at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 11, 2017; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Marco Estrada (25) at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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With a healthy rotation heading into the season, the Blue Jays look to return a strong group of starters, all with significant upside. The Jays are expected to boast one of the best rotations in baseball, as they did in 2016.

Two weeks from today. That’s all it is until the Toronto Blue Jays open their season at Camden Yards against one of their biggest current rivals, the Baltimore Orioles. While the Blue Jays have yet to announce how the rotation will kick off the season, the hints that have been subliminally dropped by the team, making the picture come into clearer focus.

Let’s start by looking at Aaron Sanchez. Sanchez’s spring got off to a late start. I’ve written quite often already, but it’s worth repeating that I strongly believe the reigns aren’t completely off Sanchez for 2017. While the Jays have gone on record to say that the reigns are completely off, Buck Martinez isn’t so sure. He went on Toronto sports radio to say he isn’t convinced they’re going to release the reigns, and I agree. That is part of the reason for his late start to the spring.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons also went on record on Sportnet’s Fan 590 in Toronto saying that Sanchez will likely need a start right before the season begins, so one would assume Sanchez gets a start in one of the Blue Jays exhibition games when they play in Montreal. Whether that’s March 31st or April 1st, that would line Sanchez up for the 4th or 5th slot. I would imagine it is the 5th.

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Marco Estrada is the next I wish to cover. Estrada, like Sanchez, got a late start to his spring. His first start in Grapefruit League action was on March 11th. Estrada is fully recovered from his back injury and his velocity has even upticked to around 90-91 MPH. If I were to guess, due to the late start, Estrada would likely get the Friday game in Montreal against the Pittsburgh Pirates which would line him up for the 4th game of the season, Friday April 7th at the Tampa Bay Rays.

The next starter, and likely the one that could determine the order of the rotation is Marcus Stroman. Stroman has been away from the Blue Jays the majority of spring because he has been with Team USA at the World Baseball Classic. Stroman started March 10th vs. the Dominican Republic, March 17th vs. Puerto Rico, and is lined up to throw the World Baseball Classic final on March 22rd, if the USA win on the 21st vs. Japan.

If Stroman starts March 22nd, his next start would be lined up for Tuesday the 28th against the Phillies. He would then be on a schedule which would see Stroman lined up for the season opener, but J.A. Happ is as also currently lined up for that, as is Francisco Liriano.

If Stroman does not start in the WBC finals, then the Jays can line up the rotation the way they truly want it. If he does, then they have 3 arms that could be lined up on regular 4 days rest to start the season opener. That is where we can juggle the rotation.

Mar 11, 2017; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Marco Estrada (25) at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 11, 2017; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Marco Estrada (25) at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The way I see it shaking down is J.A Happ getting the Opening Day assignment, as I’ve written before. Happ is currently lined up for that assignment and Gibbons has said that there is an aura around getting the start. While that is often true, Gibbons also believes the starter who gets it deserves it, based on what he accomplished the season before. That would have Happ starting April 3rd.

Now, even though the Orioles struggled against left handed pitching, that likely will not be the case again in 2017, much like the Blue Jays and their similar struggles against lefties. In my mind, that would make me believe that Stroman would start the 2nd game of the season on April 5th and Liriano on April 6th against the Rays.

This rotation has potential to be the best Blue Jays rotation in team history, and the team is lucky that the order of how the starters begin the season doesn’t really matter. Based on what has been hinted at, this is how I see the rotation starting the season:

  1. J.A Happ – April 3rd vs. Baltimore
  2. Marcus Stroman – April 5th vs. Baltimore
  3. Francisco Liriano – April 6th vs. Tampa Bay
  4. Marco Estrada – April 7th vs. Tampa Bay
  5. Aaron Sanchez – April 8th vs. Tampa Bay

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