While the Blue Jays rotation isn’t set in stone by any means, we can probably start wondering out loud who will get the start on Opening Day.
For at least the last six years the Blue Jays have had a starting rotation that leaned heavily on a veteran presence, and that’s going to change in 2019.
Whether it was grizzled vets like R.A. Dickey or Mark Buehrle, or more recently from guys like J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada, the Blue Jays have had the benefit of experience in their rotation. This offseason Ross Atkins went out and acquired Matt Shoemaker as a free agent and traded for Clayton Richard, but both are expected to round out the rotation, not lead the way.
Arguably the Blue Jays best and most consistent pitcher last year (especially after Happ was traded) was Ryan Borucki, who made 17 starts as a rookie and all but guaranteed himself a spot in the rotation by posting a 3.87 ERA and looking very poised at the highest level. As good as he is, and as much as he might be the most stable building block of the rotation, he’s still only made 17 career starts and fans should brace themselves for an adjustment period, even if it’s a short one.
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Assuming everyone is healthy to start the season, Borucki, Shoemaker, and Richard should likely fill out the 3-5 spots in the rotation. And if that’s the case, who is the Blue Jays’ number one starter for 2019? In case you didn’t know, that leaves Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez.
Granted, it’s more of a “title” than something that practically matters, but the honour of starting on Opening Day is something that professionals care about, and understandably so. It’s usually an opportunity to square off against the best of the best from around the league in terms of pitching matchups, even if starters don’t directly compete against each other. And for the Blue Jays it likely comes down to either Stroman or Sanchez.
Stroman got the call back in 2016 and made his first Opening Day start, and it was something that he was angling for last year as well. In fact, his trying to get ready in time to start that first game probably worked against him, as he was dealing with some shoulder inflammation during Spring Training that really held him back to start the year. As a result, J.A. Happ was handed the ball in 2018, a year after Marco Estrada earned the nod in 2017. Drew Hutchison made that start in 2015, and the honour went to R.A. Dickey in 2013-14.
Sanchez looked like he was going to become the Blue Jays undisputed #1 pitcher after the performance he posted in 2016, earning the American League ERA title, an All-Star appearance, and finishing 7th in Cy Young voting that year. Since then though he’s managed just 28 starts and 141 innings pitched, dealing with a variety of issues on his pitching hand. For the 26 year old, the 2019 season should be more about staying on the field than worrying about his place in the rotation pecking order.
Which brings us back to Stroman, who likely receives the ball on Opening Day by default if nothing else. After an offseason full of speculation and trade rumours, Stroman remains in Toronto and will look to not only establish himself as a top of the rotation starter again, but also as someone that the Blue Jays needs to keep around during their rebuild. He’s repeatedly expressed his desire to stay in Toronto for the long term, even tattooing the city’s skyline on his stomach. He cares about this team, the city and country, and the challenge of being the top guy, all traits you hope to see in your leaders.
Maybe the Blue Jays don’t have an obvious candidate to get the ball on Opening Day like a Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, or a Max Scherzer, but if the choice were up to me, I’d give the task to Stroman and challenge him to set the tone from day one.