Blue Jays’ Joe Biagini poised for starting role on a permanent basis?

May 7, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Joe Biagini (31) throws a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
May 7, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Joe Biagini (31) throws a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Joe Biagini is slated to start tonight against the Seattle Mariners. It will mark only the second start in the majors for the Jays’ 2016 Rule 5 pick, but so far he has performed well in his new role as spot-starter, to the tune of a 2.78 ERA this season (including his relief appearances), while both Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ continue to convalesce.

While Jays Journal’s very own Chris Henderson, as recently as a week ago, made a strong case against Joe Biagini starting, it looks like the inevitable has nonetheless finally occured: big Joe has one start under his belt, and a quality one at that – allowing 0 earned runs over 4 innings of work, while striking out 4, walking none and giving up just 2 hits against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

The reason I say inevitable (hindsight being 20/20) is that the other candidates to spot-start so far, Casey Lawrence and Mat Latos have been underwhelming to say the least. The club didn’t waste much time cutting ties with Latos shortly after his last start as a Blue Jay, in the Bronx, in which it looked as if he was throwing batting practice to the Yankees, who definitely lived up to their nickname of “the Bronx bombers” that day, lighting up Latos like a Roman candle.

Lawrence too had been unreliable and hence the swift dismissals by the front office of both pitchers. In fact Lawrence didn’t even make it through waivers and was picked up by our current opponents, the Mariners yesterday. Hopefully they’ll be able to work with the young hurler and figure out a way to turn him into a legitimate major league arm that can compete against the best of ‘em.

Thus, the Jays had to look elsewhere for help as 2/5’s of their rotation remain sidelined due to injury. Check that – make it 3/5’s with Liriano landing on the DL yesterday.

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Besides Biagini, Mike Bolsinger also got the opportunity to start, and although the game he pitched ended up being a 6-0 blow out at the hands of the Cleveland Indians, he looked quite capable during his portion, allowing a couple of runs but still holding his own against the defending American League champs.

The burning question I’ve been meaning to get to though, is this: after yet another erratic showing from Francisco Liriano on Wednesday night, does Joe Biagini have a legitimate shot at taking over Liriano’s place in the rotation?

The Jays have been quite savvy in their approach to easing Biagini into a starting role: they limited his pitch count to 60 in his first start and are gradually increasing it until he is able to hit the century mark, the new norm for starters.

It’s been reported that Biagini’s limit tonight will be in the neighbourhood of 75-80 pitches. This approach by the club, of stretching him out over several starts, while keeping him up with the team, has almost been done out of necessity – they really didn’t have the luxury of sending him down to Buffalo to get acclimated to a starting role over several starts. The injury bug has precluded such a scenario, thus the method of “baptism by fire” that we are witnessing.

Of course asking if Biagini will replace Liriano might be a little premature as all hands are on deck at the moment, but once Aaron Sanchez’s finger heals and J.A. Happ’s inflammation subsides, the presumption is that the best performer will win the job of anchoring the back end of the rotation. In fact, now that Liriano has hit the DL perhaps the question will answer itself, again, as a matter of necessity.

We’ll see how Biagini looks tonight against another major league lineup, comprised of some seriously pedigreed bats such as that of Robinson Cano and a formidable supporting cast. The lineup also includes Jean Segura who currently boasts a batting average over .360 out of Seattle’s lead-off spot.

Next: Blue Jays: What to do with Ryan Goins

As it currently stands, with Liriano now on the DL as well, the question of whether Biagini starts becomes academic, but we’ll see who secures a back end rotation spot once our starters are healthy again – hopefully sooner than later. It should be interesting, as the youth movement has begun to emerge with the Jays’ starting pitching. If Biagini is serviceable he’ll likely earn a starting spot next year alongside Sanchez and Stroman, and perhaps even Sean Reid-Foley and/or Conner Greene.