The Blue Jays have their top three starters facing the Red Sox to begin the week, but what are they going to do over five games in four days against the Rays?
That’s a question that has yet to be answered, but for the time being Charlie Montoyo and the coaching staff can rest a little more comfortably, at least compared to what later in the week might bring. Kevin Gausman started things off on a very positive note on Monday by throwing seven scoreless innings while striking out ten Red Sox hitters. It was exactly what the team needed after a rough weekend.
From there they’ll have Ross Stripling pitching on Tuesday, who has fared very well since moving into the rotation. Stripling took over for the injured Hyun Jin Ryu, who is lost for the season after Tommy John surgery, and thankfully he’s even outperformed the veteran prior to his injury. On Wednesday the Blue Jays will close their series with Boston by sending Alek Manoah to the hill, and the big righty has been one of the best pitchers in baseball so far this season.
While Manoah, Gausman, Berrios, and Kikuchi are all healthy, unfortunately the latter two have been struggling to the point where they’ve been borderline unusable, especially Kikuchi. On Saturday the Japanese southpaw struggled to throw his fastball for strikes, to the point where it was clear he didn’t trust his release point at all. Without the ability to throw his best pitch over the plate, Kikuchi had no choice but to rely too heavily on his slider. The result was that the Brewers hitters let the fastball miss, and teed off on his slider instead. As for Berrios, he had another disastrous outing on Sunday, which has happened to him far too many times already this year for someone who was expected to be a top of the rotation arm.
Once the Blue Jays get through with their series with the Red Sox, the situation is compounded by the fact that they’re cramming five games into four days against Tampa Bay. They were already going to need an extra starter for Saturday’s double-header, and now they could arguably use two if they want to replace Kikuchi’s spot for the next turn, which would be understandable.
To me the first guy up would be Max Castillo, who threw four scoreless innings in relief on the weekend. It was much better than his first big league appearance, and it feels like he’s at least earned the opportunity, especially in the double-header.
If the Blue Jays decide that they’re not willing to start Kikuchi against the Rays, they might have to turn to a familiar face in Thomas Hatch, who we haven’t seen in the big leagues yet this year. Hatch hasn’t had the best season in Buffalo so far, but he has the experience and the stuff to get batters out at the highest level.
As for the rest of the week, here’s my best guess on how the Blue Jays will lay things out in the rotation:
Tues vs. Red Sox- Ross Stripling
Wed vs. Red Sox- Alek Manoah
Thurs vs. Rays- Yusei Kikuchi/Max Castillo
Fri vs. Rays- Jose Berrios
Sat vs. Rays- Thomas Hatch
Sat vs. Rays- Kevin Gausman
Sun vs. Rays- Stripling
We already know that Stripling and Manoah will pitch the next two games, but it’s the start of the Rays series that we don’t know the plans just yet. While I think the Blue Jays would likely prefer to move Kikuchi out of the rotation right away, this week’s schedule isn’t very well set up to do that. Instead, I think they’ll give the erratic lefty one more chance to prove he can stick in the rotation, and Castillo will be ready and waiting to take over if he can’t find the zone. Castillo pitched four innings in relief during Kikuchi’s last start, so both of them should be well rested and even lined up for Thursday.
In a best case scenario, Castillo won’t be needed on Thursday and instead can be available as a long-man in case Berrios falters again. I have a bit more faith in the right-hander than I do Kikuchi, but I’ll still readily admit that he’s been anything but reliable lately. Trent Thornton is also kicking around as a long-man of sorts as well, but the Blue Jays can’t really afford to have back to back duds. As for the second game of Saturday’s double-header, I’m guessing Hatch gets the call. He last pitched on Saturday, so he lines up on four days rest for Thursday too, but I think he’ll get pushed back to wait for the weekend.
I don’t envy Charlie Montoyo or Pete Walker’s position as they try to sort things out with their pitching staff this week, but thankfully Gausman started it off on a positive note. Considering it’s a huge week against division rivals that will also be chasing a playoff spot, the Blue Jays will hope to get the best from their starting rotation in the midst of an important stretch.