While it’s felt like the Blue Jays could use another starting pitcher for a couple of years now, their internal options have improved enough that the need may not be so urgent anymore.
So far in 2021 the Jays have turned to a trio of veterans in Hyun Jin Ryu, Robbie Ray, and Steven Matz, and it’s hard to imagine where they’d be without them. Ryu has continued to perform as one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, Ray is in the midst of one of the best stretches of his career, and Matz has been surprisingly valuable after coming over from the Mets in an offseason trade.
The 4th and 5th spots in the rotation have been a real issue for Charlie Montoyo and the Blue Jays so far this season, but the situation is slowly but surely improving because of internal options. Naturally they have to be thrilled with what they saw from Alek Manoah in his debut against the Yankees on Thursday, and the big right-hander has likely cemented his spot in the rotation for at least the next few weeks at a minimum. If he keeps pitching anywhere near as well as he did when he shut down the Yankees over six innings, he won’t be going back to Triple-A.
While I’m not at all against the idea of finding another starting pitcher, especially if it’s someone who can join forces with Ryu at the top of the rotation, there could be solid options coming from within, and sooner than later. To start with, both Anthony Kay and Ross Stripling have pitched better in recent outings. The numbers don’t fully tell the story for Kay, who has thrown much better than things look on paper, and he’ll likely have another opportunity to stake his claim on a rotation job. Stripling has had a tough start to the year, but his last time out saw him put up 7.0 shutout innings against the Rays, which could be something to build on.
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Beyond those two options to round out the group, the Blue Jays may have some reinforcements coming sooner than later. Thomas Hatch has already made two rehab starts and could be available to the big league club some time in the next week or two, depending on how they want to bring him along of course. Hatch was an excellent bullpen asset last year as well, so there could be a role for him regardless of how the rotation looks when he’s deemed fully ready.
There’s also Nate Pearson, who has kind of become a forgotten man in the mix lately. He’s not as far along in his rehab as Hatch, but he’s been back on the mound again lately and will hopefully make it back to the big leagues sometime in June. He’ll need to prove that he’s ready for the highest level again after a rough first start for the Jays this year, but his talent is undeniable.
In an ideal world a rotation of Ryu, Ray, Matz, Manoah, and Pearson could be pretty exciting, and provide an awful lot of upside. They’d still be arguably missing that #2 or co-ace that would be so helpful in a playoff series, but with the way that Ray has thrown so far this year perhaps he can be that guy anyway. There may still be innings limits to think about for Manoah and Pearson in particular, and hopefully a season of health for the veterans, but it’s not hard to see how this group could become a strength.
All that said, you could easily poke holes in this group of starting pitchers just as easily as I talked about the upside. They’ll need to stay healthy, and asking for big contributions from a couple of rookies in Manoah and eventually Pearson might be more than they’re ready for, but they should eventually have some depth with the likes of Hatch, Kay, Stripling, and more. Considering it looked like a glaring weakness on the roster as recently as earlier this week, Manoah’s debut has really provided a shot in the arm, and a reason to be excited.
We’re only 48 games into the season so obviously a lot can change, but lately things are looking up in the Blue Jays rotation. In a perfect world, hopefully they’ll have enough good options that it even breeds a competition.