Toronto Blue Jays: Keep the kids in the starting rotation

CLEVELAND, OHIO - APRIL 05: Manager Charlie Montoyo #25 removes starting pitcher Trent Thornton #57 of the Toronto Blue Jays from the game during the sixth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on April 05, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO - APRIL 05: Manager Charlie Montoyo #25 removes starting pitcher Trent Thornton #57 of the Toronto Blue Jays from the game during the sixth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on April 05, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The Blue Jays will soon have more starters than they can use, and when that happens I hope they keep the young arms in the rotation going forward.

So far in the young 2019 season we’ve watched the Blue Jays struggle mightily to score runs, and even pick up base hits against Detroit, Baltimore, and now a series started in Cleveland. Their pitching staff has been a very different story, especially in the starting rotation.

It starts with a healthy trio at the top in Marcus Stroman, Matt Shoemaker, and Aaron Sanchez. All three have been dialled in to start the year and have provided the Blue Jays with exactly what they need in the rotation. The other two spots were supposed to come down to a battle between Ryan Borucki, Clayton Richard, and Clay Buchholz, but none of those options have been healthy or ready enough to pitch in a regular season game just yet.

That’s going to change sooner than later though, as each of them should be ready to pitch sometime this month if all goes according to plan. The Jays initially assumed that Richard would be out at least a couple of weeks when he hit the injured list at the end of March, which would put him on track for a mid-April return. Buchholz continues to ramp things up and should be ready around the same time, and Borucki will be continue to be evaluated with a target to get back before the end of the month as well.

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So far the fourth and five spots in the rotation have belonged to Trent Thornton and Sean Reid-Foley, although the latter was re-assigned to Buffalo this week and Thomas Pannone will get the ball later today at the back of the rotation. With all due respect to Reid-Foley and Pannone, I don’t think either will factor into the competition in the near term unless injuries come into play, but I do feel like Thornton has pitched himself not only into the conversation, but hopefully into a permanent spot as a starter.

It’s only been two turns through the rotation, but through his first 10.2 innings pitched he has been excellent, sporting a 1.69 ERA and striking out 15 batters, which is a new franchise record through his first two starts, besting the former mark set by Roy Halladay of 13. He’s looked poised on the bump, and leaves me wondering how the Astros let him get away for just a price tag of Aledmys Diaz. Granted it’s only been two games, but the kid definitely looks legit so far.

When we last saw Ryan Bouricki on a big league mound, there was no doubt that he should be a part of the Blue Jays rotation going forward as well, and that’s where things might get a little complicated for Charlie Montoyo and company once everyone gets healthy. There’s a very good chance they’ll need everyone at some point during the season, but you can’t use seven starters at once, so some are going to move to either Triple-A, or to the bullpen.

I think it’s safe to say that both Borucki and Thornton will be starters no matter what happens, and it is possible that the Blue Jays could use Buchholz and Richard to round out the rotation, at least early on in the year. Chances are that both pitchers could be viewed as potential trade pieces for later this summer, and giving them a chance to start and enhance their trade value will help to that end. However, they’ve both got experience in the bullpen as well, and Buchholz even has incentives built into his contract as a reliever.

When I think about the state of the Blue Jays and the opportunity that they’re giving their youngsters on the position player side of the ball, I can’t help but think they should do the same for Borucki (when he’s healthy), and for Thornton as long as he continues to pitch like a big leaguer. The right-hander is not going to maintain a 1.69 ERA forever, but as long as he’s not being knocked around the park then he’ll do his best developing at the highest level.

In a season that’s clearly about the future and rebuilding this franchise, I sincerely hope the Blue Jays apply the same principles to their pitching staff. Maybe the early breather will ultimately help Borucki get through his first full (ish) season, and we’ll see what Thornton can do once the league gets a better book on him, but right now I’d say the Blue Jays should be excited about the futures of both starters.

Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays’ front office have obviously shown a willingness to make early season trades so far, so who knows, maybe they’ll capitalize on their depth, and the quality of their starter’s performance early in the season. Whatever they do though, I hope that it includes a position for Thornton to stick around, and for Borucki to slot into the rotation when he’s ready.

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As a good buddy once told me, “you can’t be half-pregnant”, so if the Blue Jays are going to commit to a rebuild and roll out a young lineup on a regular basis, I hope they’re willing to prioritize the same for their young pitching talent. From what we’ve seen over a couple starts from Thornton, and what we witnessed from Borucki last year, they’re definitely ready for the challenge.