As the Blue Jays continue to decide how aggressively they’ll pursue the playoffs this year, their reliable rotation is suddenly in need of some help.
After starting the year as a shaky point of the roster, the rotation had settled into a pretty solid place heading into the All-Star break. Robbie Ray and Hyun Jin Ryu have pitched like top-tier starters, and with the unexpected elite performance from both Ross Stripling and rookie Alek Manoah, there was an argument that the Blue Jays had other areas to address with greater urgency, especially now that Steven Matz is back from the Covid-19 list.
Things can change in a real hurry though, and unfortunately the Jays might be thinking a lot differently after the way the last few days have played out. They’re not going to overreact because of one poor start from Stripling, but things weren’t pretty in an important outing against the Red Sox on Monday night. The right-hander only recorded a single out during the start and gave up six earned runs on four hits and two walks. Unfortunately things didn’t get much better once Anthony Kay took over, and the series started off on a sour note for the Jays.
As if that wasn’t enough of a bummer, we also received the news that Alek Manoah has hit the Injured List because of a back contusion suffered when he slipped on the dugout stairs last week. Sportsnet’s Hazel Mae posted a tweet showing him gingerly walking before Monday’s game, and chances are he’s going to be out until the end of the month at the very least. That’s a significant blow after the way the 23 year old has established himself in Charlie Montoyo’s rotation. Over his first eight MLB starts he’s 2-1 with a 2.90 ERA and a 1.066 WHIP, including 52 strikeouts over 40.1 innings.
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As for Steven Matz, it’s definitely good to have him back in the rotation and it was encouraging to see him throw 5.0 shutout innings against the Rangers on Sunday in the back half of the double-header. That said, he’s had a very Jekyl and Hyde performance in 2021, and I’m sure the Blue Jays would be fine with keeping him at the back of the rotation, or even moving him to the bullpen in the event that they can acquire an upgrade ahead of the trade deadline.
For the immediate future the Jays will insert Thomas Hatch into Alek Manoah’s place in the rotation, and hopefully he can provide a serviceable effort now that he’s made a healthy return from an arm injury earlier in the year. If he can’t, Montoyo is going to find himself in a very difficult position because the depth options from there aren’t very encouraging. Kay struggled to produce or even find a role with the big league roster this year, and I doubt they’ll be keen on inserting him into the rotation after Monday’s outing. I can’t imagine you’ll find many people excited about seeing names like T.J. Zeuch or Jacob Waguespack as options either, and Nate Pearson still isn’t close to being a factor yet. I don’t think the idea of a “bullpen day” is something the Jays can entertain right now either.
Hopefully Manoah won’t be out for any longer than the 10 day minimum, but regardless the Blue Jays could use a rotation boost in the immediate term. They began a crucial three-game series with the Red Sox on Monday, and after a trip to New York for three games with the Mets in between, they’ll play the Red Sox four more times in Boston. After losing on Monday the Jays are now 7.0 games back of the Sox for first place in the AL East, and these games could define their season.
From the way that Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins have spoken to the media, it sounds like the Jays intend on being aggressive and taking a run at the playoffs this season. Assuming nothing has changed in that regard, Manoah’s injury may have just sped up the urgency, and maybe even changed the top targets on the Blue Jays’ list.