It appears that highly touted pitching prospect Nate Pearson will be on the shelf to start the season due to a groin strain that he suffered a few weeks ago.
Because of this, manager Charlie Montoya is going to have to come up with a plan as to how he wants to fill the fifth starter spot for the first few trips through the rotation. As of now, it seems that Ross Stripling has the upper hand in the battle for that spot due to his experience in the big leagues.
Team President, Mark Shapiro, even stated that “as of now, Stripling will be in the rotation”. The key words in Shapiro’s statement were ‘as of now’. It’s still early in camp and lots can change over the next couple of weeks, and this could determine what the Jays do with the fifth spot in the rotation. I decided to take a look at a couple of different places that the Jays can turn to help get them through the first few weeks of the season.
Find A Traditional Fifth Starter
The first option the Jays can explore is simply finding someone in their system who they feel comfortable with using as a traditional starter for a handful of games. This will really depend on how guys pitch during the spring, as someone will have to show management that they are capable of going out and facing a batting order 2-3 times.
If the Jays do end up going down this road then I think the two options to fill this role would be Trent Thornton or Ross Stripling as they both have experience starting games, and working a traditional starter’s work load in the majors. Thornton has made 32 starts and Stripling has made 61 over the course of their careers, and this will definitely be a factor in the Jays decision if they choose to use a traditional starter.
Though this is definitely a viable option, I don’t think the Jays will end up going in this direction simply because they may not trust either Stripling or Thornton to get through an opposition’s line up three times. I think that Montoyo would feel a lot more comfortable only having to rely on guys like Stripling and Thornton to get 6-12 outs instead of 15-18.
The Two “Starter” Method
The next option that I have is probably the most likely one that we will see: the two “starter” method. The two “starter” method is effective when a team doesn’t have a traditional starter that they feel comfortable with working three times through the order. In this situation, teams will often split the workload between two different arms, to change up what opposing hitters are seeing.
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The first starter will work 1-2 times through the order and then the second arm will finish off whatever’s left, to get their team through the opposing lineup three times. In this scenario, Montoya could run out a guy like Stripling for 2-4 innings, have him get 6-12 outs and then turn it over to someone like Anthony Kay or Thomas Hatch to finish the job.
In theory, using this method should get teams the amount of outs a traditional starter would get, just using two different pitchers. Personally, I am not a huge fan of this tactic as I love seeing pitchers work deep into games, throwing seven, eight and even nine innings, but this is the way that the game is trending and the Jays seem to like utilizing their pitchers this way.
This is the scenario that I think the Jays will turn to, as we saw them implement it a lot last season and they seem to feel comfortable using it when they don’t have a true starter available to throw.
Using a bullpen day will really come down to how much time Pearson is going to miss. If he’s set to miss just a start or two then I think a bullpen day becomes a viable option. If it’s anything more than that, you run the risk of wearing out your relievers early in the season (kind of like last year).
A bullpen day can be effective as managers are able to pick and choose matchups throughout an entire game. This should put pitchers in situations where they have a higher chance to succeed, instead of just tossing someone out on the mound and asking them to get through five innings by themselves.
If the Jays choose to go down this route, there are a number of different ways they could execute it. My guess is that they will want to use a high leverage reliever like Romano or Dolis as an opener, to get through the top of the order before turning it over to a multi-inning reliever like Stripling or Hatch, and then rolling out multiple one inning arms after them.
With the wealth of starting pitching depth the Jays have at their disposal, I don’t think they will end up going down the bullpen day route. I think that Montoya will want to try to keep his relievers as fresh as possible, but it still is an option that they can explore.
Give A Prospect A Shot
The final option that the Jays should be considering to fill the fifth starter spot is giving it to one of their young(ish) arms. We saw a number of mid-level pitching prospects like Thomas Hatch, Anthony Kay and Julian Merryweather pitch out of the bullpen last season.
Despite combining for just 60.1 innings in 2020, all three hurlers are being stretched out this spring and are expected to be used as starters this season. The Jays have plenty of options if they want to use a traditional starter, but do we really want to see Trent Thornton or Ross Stripling go out there and get lit up for two or three starts?
We know what guys like Stripling and Thornton are going to give this team. Why not take a flyer on an arm, who would be less proven, but would also have a much higher ceiling than some of the other options available. This is definitely my favourite option as I would love to see Kay, Hatch or Merryweather get a shot in the bigs, as they provide much more upside than Stripling or Thornton do.
Though all four options definitely could be used, I think the Jays are going to want to utilize veteran arms who have the ability to throw multiple innings to cover Pearson’s first couple of starts. It definitely won’t be a flashy move, but it’s what I think this team will feel comfortable doing with the personnel they have on their roster.