Blue Jays: Rowley’s debut raises blister questions, again

TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 12: Chris Rowley
TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 12: Chris Rowley /

Chris Rowley had a very impressive MLB debut with the Blue Jays on Saturday, getting a standing ovation as he walked off the field in the sixth inning. After the game, Sportsnet’s Hazel Mae asked him about a potential hot spot developing on his finger, and he brushed it off quickly. Hopefully he’s not the latest Blue Jay to deal with the issue this season.

Almost everything went the Blue Jays’ way on Saturday against the Pirates, and there was plenty to smile about in the Toronto clubhouse. The Blue Jays managed to even up their series with Pittsburgh after dropping the opener by a score of 4-2 on Friday, before their 7-2 victory in game two.

The Blue Jays’ had to dip further into their pitching pool on Saturday, sending rookie Chris Rowley to the mound against the Pirates. He was the 12th starter for the Blue Jays’ this year, a drastic contract to last season when the team only had to use seven arms, with one being a few spot starts from Drew Hutchison.

For his part, Rowley was sensational in his debut, allowing just six hits and one earned run over 5.1 innings. It was a dream beginning for the career of the 26 year old U.S. Army veteran, and he may have impressed the team enough to get a few more starts. In the short term they’re waiting on Joe Biagini to stretch out again in Triple A, and Aaron Sanchez remains on the DL with blister issues, so the opportunity could be there for an extended run for the rookie.

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However, that word “blister” has been a major thorn in the side for the Blue Jays this year, and it’s possible it could be rearing it’s ugly head once again. After the game, Rowley was interviewed on the field by Hazel Mae of Sportsnet, and after congratulating him on his performance she asked him about his middle finger, which he had been reportedly checking throughout the game. For his part, Rowley responded in his best Josh Donaldson-esque form with “I had a little bit of dirt under my nail, so I wanted to make sure I got it out of there”.

Rowley smirked as he made the comment, and for what it’s worth I thought it was a brilliant response from a brand new major leaguer. It was time to celebrate after a long road to the big leagues, and I’m sure he wouldn’t want to admit there was a problem, even if there is. A blister issue or “hot spot” could land him on the DL like many other Blue Jays’ pitchers before him, and you can bet the Army vet isn’t going to let that stop him unless the club shuts him down.

"“I had a little bit of dirt under my nail, so I wanted to make sure I got it out of there”"

Which is probably what happened on Saturday, in addition to relieving him in an important part of the game that could have spoiled his debut, and the Blue Jays’ afternoon. As it was Dominic Leone managed to get out of trouble before the Pirates could score, and the Jays tacked on some insurance runs in the seventh inning to secure Rowley’s first big league win.

It’s worth another look at this whole blister thing though, especially with it popping up for Rowley in his first appearance at the highest level. The MLB uses a different baseball than what’s used in the minor leagues, so it was Rowley’s first chance to use this particular ball in a real game setting. According to an article I found on Fangraphs from February of this year, here are the major differences between the MLB and MiLB balls:

  • MLB balls are made in Costa Rica, and MiLB balls are made in China
  • The MLB balls are slightly more expensive, but are supposed to perform on par with the MiLB baseballs.
  • There are slightly different materials used
  • And lastly, MLB pitchers are allowed to use MLB balls while on MiLB assignment.

As David Laurila of FanGraphs also points out, that last point has to say something about there being an actual difference in the balls, or it wouldn’t be allowed. One has to wonder about someone like Rowley immediately reacting to the new ball, and if there is something flawed with the MLB baseball design.

Maybe it’s just a case of the body needing to adjustment to a new material, but when it’s been a chronic issue for Aaron Sanchez, something that Marcus Stroman has dealt with, and a major storyline throughout the game, eventually things will have to start adding up for the commissioner’s office.

It’s too late to make a change in 2017, but don’t be surprised if there is a slight tweak before next season. With every case that piles on against today’s version of the ball, MLB owners and GM’s are going to speak out more and more. Fortunately it appears that Rowley is going to be fine for now, but it’ll be a situation worth monitoring as he continues to work with the new ball, and the new league.

Next: If they decide to move him, where might Estrada end up?