The Toronto Blue Jays find themselves in a good position heading into the final three weeks, thanks largely to their starting pitching.
Even though they don’t currently have a fifth starter, the Jays have used bullpen days to patch together innings and have had some success doing so.
It’s a strategy they’ll likely have to use at least a couple more times in the final stretch of games leading up to the postseason. Here’s a look at when a fifth starter/opener could be used and the options.
Blue Jays: Core Four, Plus One More
Alek Manoah has been a workhorse and anchor of the rotation throughout the season. Kevin Gausman has enjoyed a fine first season in Toronto and his FIP suggests his overall numbers should probably be a lot better. Ross Stripling has been remarkably consistent since becoming a full-time starter and valued free agent this winter. Right-hander Jose Berrios has had a largely disappointing season but has looked improved with a 2.95 ERA over his last six starts.
The team has utilized Trevor Richards as an opener three times in September and he’s done well in the role. He’s allowed just one run through 3.1 innings, and the Blue Jays won two of those games.
Depending on his recent usage, he’ll definitely be an option to start another bullpen game. Using Richards in tandem with Julian Merryweather to get through three or possibly four frames would be a great start.
Swapping players who have options, for example, Zach Pop for Mitch White could be an alternate choice. White can pitch multiple innings but may be better used as a non-starter given his recent outings.
In his first three starts with the Blue Jays, White was decent, posting a 3.86 ERA, but averaged only 4.1 innings per start. Then the wheels fell off over his subsequent three appearances, with 15 earned runs allowed over 12 innings.
In his last game with the Jays, White pitched six important innings and allowed three earned runs in a game started by Merryweather. He was the extra player on the roster for that doubleheader game so that may be the last time we’ll see White on the big league roster this season.
If he does get the call again, White could be relied on to get key outs in early-to-middle inning relief efforts.
Blue Jays: When to use a bullpen day
The coaching staff knows it will need to be judicious about what personnel to use in these bulk-relief situations. So too they will need to consider when to ask the relief corps to do some heavy lifting.
The two remaining off-days help, including today’s rest day before the two-game set in Philadelphia, starting on Tuesday. That allows them to start Stripling and Gausman, both on five day’s rest before a pivotal four-game series with the Rays.
That’s when John Schneider will have a decision to make. He could start the quartet of games against Tampa Bay with Jose Berrios and Alek Manoah on regular rest but he may also strongly consider going the bullpen-day route.
That would give Berrios and Manoah an extra day’s rest going into the final homestand of the year. If they do use the bulk bullpen for a game versus the Rays, they would have to do the same thing against the Yankees in the penultimate home series.
The division title could be all out of reach by that time, and could make it an easier decision but may be the best course of action anyhow.
If a bullpen day is used in the middle game of the series with the Yankees, Berrios can start the last one on regular rest before the last off-day of the season on September 29th.
That gives Manoah, Stripling, and Gausman an extra day’s rest before their final starts of the regular season. The staff may want to toggle the order of that trio to line up their Game 1 starter for the playoffs.
If the team knows they will be playing in the wild-card game, which starts a day after the regular season ends, October 7th, they will likely line up Manoah to be their Game 1 starter. That could require him to pitch on six days between starts, from September 24-30.
That’s not an ideal time off between starts, but if it means he’s available to give the Jays their best foot forward in a short series, isn’t it worth it? After all, with all the work he’s put in this season, Manoah has earned that respite.