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Blue Jays: Short-term vs. long-term strategy for Charlie Montoyo

DUNEDIN, FLORIDA - APRIL 13: Manager Charlie Montoyo #25 hands the ball to David Phelps #35 of the Toronto Blue Jays in the seventh inning against the New York Yankees at TD Ballpark on April 13, 2021 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
DUNEDIN, FLORIDA - APRIL 13: Manager Charlie Montoyo #25 hands the ball to David Phelps #35 of the Toronto Blue Jays in the seventh inning against the New York Yankees at TD Ballpark on April 13, 2021 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /
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Charlie Montoyo has done a great job of patching together a pitching staff for the Blue Jays, but the strategy likely won’t work as a long-term one.

Somehow the Blue Jays are still sitting above .500 at 17-16 despite the fact that they’ve been ravaged by injuries. One of the biggest reasons for that success has been the downright dominance of the bullpen, and Montoyo’s excellent use of his weapons after his starting pitcher. The problem of course, is that we’re already starting to see some of those pitchers wear down, and we’re only about 20% of the way through the season.

By no means am I blaming Montoyo for that at this stage, as it’s largely been born out of necessity. Including the “openers” they’ve used, and also the piggy-back starter concept, the Jays have already rolled 12 different arms out to begin a game this year. They have been creative with how they’ve used their pitching staff, but the most concerning part is that only Hyun Jin Ryu, Robbie Ray, and Steven Matz are averaging even five innings per start, with a pretty steep drop off from there.

Fortunately all three of those veterans are healthy right now, and the Blue Jays are going to need them to act the part over the next few weeks as they try to re-fuel a tired bullpen. That said, they’re still going to need to figure out what to do with the other two spots in the rotation, and continuing with the “bullpen day” concept isn’t going to work forever, even if it might help them earn a few extra wins in the short term.

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The need for length from the rotation made Nate Pearson’s Sunday return all that more disappointing, as the 23 year old struggled to find the zone and lasted just 2.1 innings before he had to be lifted. After such a shaky performance the Jays might feel that they have no other choice but to send him back to Triple-A to work on dialling in his command, as he wasn’t much use to them in his first outing.

Regardless of what they do with Pearson they might need to ask for more of a traditional starter’s role from other arms on their staff. That will likely continue to include Ross Stripling, who hasn’t been at his best with a 6.61 ERA and a 1.90 WHIP over his first four appearances, or perhaps Anthony Kay, whose role has been a bit of a mixed bag so far this year.

One way or another the Blue Jays are going to be have to come up with another solution to get through nine innings on a regular basis, unless they plan on continuing the revolving door of injury problems from the bullpen. So far this year they’ve missed time/are still without a list of pitchers that includes Kirby Yates, Julian Merryweather, Jordan Romano, Rafael Dolis, David Phelps, Thomas Hatch, Anthony Castro, Pearson, and more. All things considered it’s pretty remarkable that they’re still producing above average results.

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Unfortunately it’s probably too early in the year to find much on the trade market as far as starting pitcher, so the Blue Jays are going to have to solve the problem internally. That might mean that Montoyo is going to have to trust his starters to go deeper into the game on occasion, even when the analytics say otherwise on that particular night. Part of the manager’s gig is to manage a pitching staff with a 162-game schedule in mind, and that’s going to become a bigger theme as we get further into this season.

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