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Blue Jays: Will Clayton Richard or Ryan Borucki claim final rotation spot?

TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 24: Ryan Borucki #56 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch in the first inning during MLB game action against the Philadelphia Phillies at Rogers Centre on August 24, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. Players are wearing special jerseys with their nicknames on them during Players' Weekend. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 24: Ryan Borucki #56 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch in the first inning during MLB game action against the Philadelphia Phillies at Rogers Centre on August 24, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. Players are wearing special jerseys with their nicknames on them during Players' Weekend. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /
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The signing of Clay Buchholz helps the Blue Jays depth chart, and likely pits Ryan Borucki and Clayton Richard against each other for the last spot.

About this time last month, before pitchers and catchers even reported, it looked as though the Toronto Blue Jays would head into the regular season with the following rotation, barring a dismal camp for the latter two on this list:

Marcus Stroman
Aaron Sanchez
Matt Shoemaker
Clayton Richard
Ryan Borucki

As March approached though, many people close to the team and those that follow the club were waiting for a domino to fall, and waiting on when the Blue Jays would add some pitching depth. Pitching depth for a club that had a 19-year-old right-hander who has never pitched beyond a rookie league in his career on its projected Opening Day roster.

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That domino fell last Thursday when sources around the league announced the Blue Jays had signed two former 15-game winners in the AL East with Clay Buchholz and Bud Norris, although Norris now resides in the bullpen. Although nothing is guaranteed and things are still unclear, it looks as though Buchholz will join the rotation with Stroman, Sanchez and Shoemaker after posting a 7-2 record with a 2.01 ERA and 81 strikeouts to 22 walks with the Diamondbacks last year.

That leaves the final spot in the rotation open to two left-handers, veteran Clayton Richard and Ryan Borucki, fresh off a solid rookie campaign where he looked to be the Jays’ best pitcher at many times throughout his 17 starts.

Both Borucki and Richard can provide the rotation with some value, but are two completely different pitchers at different points in their careers. If Buchholz does indeed join the starting five, there will only be room for one of these two as the season opens up at the Rogers Centre.

DUNEDIN, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 22: Ryan Borucki #56 of the Toronto Blue Jays poses for a portrait during photo day at Dunedin Stadium on February 22, 2019 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
DUNEDIN, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 22: Ryan Borucki #56 of the Toronto Blue Jays poses for a portrait during photo day at Dunedin Stadium on February 22, 2019 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Ryan Borucki

Borucki definitely provides the Blue Jays with more upside than Richard, but that also comes with more uncertainty from the youngster. While Borucki did show the ability to pitch in a major league rotation last year over his 97.2 innings, that’s where the uncertainty comes in. He closed out his first campaign with the best ERA among Blue Jays starting pitchers at 3.87. While his numbers were good, until he proves otherwise you have to imagine he won’t be able to keep that pace up throughout an entire big league campaign. Even further, it’s difficult to predict how a young arm will be able to make that jump and eat more innings, but Borucki has thrown over 150 innings in back-to-back pro seasons including 174.2 last season between Toronto and Triple-A Buffalo.

The soon to be 25 year old pitches to contact with a 92 mph fastball and uses his above average changeup to keep hitters honest. Borucki finished the season with the second highest fWAR among Blue Jay starters, and fourth best among AL rookie pitchers.

Borucki started five games in September, all against AL East opponents, and really hit his stride as he was one of the best pitchers in the American League. Despite his 1-3 record, he had a 2.65 ERA to go along with a 0.91 WHIP and an incredible .165 batting average for opposing hitters. Again, Borucki was able to accomplish this at a young age and thus would provide the Blue Jays rotation with more upside, but whether he begins the season in the rotation or in Buffalo, he likely will finish the season with the major league club.

DUNEDIN, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 22: Clayton Richard #2 of the Toronto Blue Jays poses for a portrait during photo day at Dunedin Stadium on February 22, 2019 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
DUNEDIN, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 22: Clayton Richard #2 of the Toronto Blue Jays poses for a portrait during photo day at Dunedin Stadium on February 22, 2019 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Clayton Richard

While the Jays have some uncertainty from Borucki, they know exactly what they have in Richard. A major league veteran who can eat innings, but those innings he provides often come at a painful cost. While he is one of only 26 pitchers to hurl over 350 innings over the past two seasons, his 5.03 ERA and .284 batting average for opponents was the worst among those starters.

General manager Ross Atkins said in February the rotation would include Stroman, Sanchez, Shoemaker and Richard with Borucki and others battling for the fifth and final spot. With the addition of Buchholz though, it looks as if he would join those other three names and push Richard into that battle for the final spot.

That being said, the Blue Jays may value Richard more for a spot in the rotation due to his stability as Stroman and Sanchez each barely threw 100 innings last year to go along with Shoemaker’s 31 frames. Richard has thrown far more innings over the past two seasons than all other options, but his hard hit rate has gone up from 25.9 per cent in 2016 (only started nine games), to 35 per cent in 2017 and up to 40.9 in 2018, breaking his career-high from the previous season.

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Another option for Richard is to potentially begin the season in the bullpen and in turn, provide the Blue Jays with some rotation depth when the need arises. It doesn’t look like there’s much of a chance both join the starting five, but whether it’s Borucki or Richard, it proves as a good sign for the club as the need for more starting pitching should grow as the season wears on. Both left-handers will be prepared to take the bump every fifth day, but which one actually will should become more clear as Opening Day approaches.

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