Blue Jays' Opening Day starter plans may be changing as regular season approaches

Mar 5, 2024; Bradenton, Florida, USA;  Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Jose Berrios (17) smiles
Mar 5, 2024; Bradenton, Florida, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Jose Berrios (17) smiles / Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Spring training is still raging on, and battles around the Toronto Blue Jays are heating up. Which infielder(s) will make the cut is one of the top storylines in camp, but another one to keep a close eye on is which pitcher will get the Opening Day start.

A month ago, the immediate answer was Kevin Gausman. Of course it'd be Gausman. The right-hander somehow found a way to elevate his game even further last year, finishing third in the AL Cy Young voting and turning himself into the indisputable staff ace for the Blue Jays.

Unfortunately, Gausman has ran into some injury concerns for the first time in his tenure with Toronto. Since he came over in the 2022 season, he's made two consecutive full-start seasons, making 31 of them in each of the two campaigns. The 33-year-old halted a bullpen session last week after experiencing shoulder fatigue.

A few days later, he provided an update to the media, saying that he'd be good to go for Opening Day. However, the missed time for him in spring training has opened the door for other pitchers on the staff to sneak into the conversation of Opening Day starter. Gausman is easily the most deserving candidate, but his lowered workload this spring is likely suggesting that he'll have to wait at least one more year to get that nod.

Instead, all signs are pointing to 2022 Opening Day starter Jose Berrios once again taking the honors this year. As relayed by Sportsnet's Arden Zwelling and Ben Nicholson-Smith, Berrios seems to be the leading candidate to secure another season-opening start. The right-hander has been lights out this spring thanks to a sharp new cutter and revamped approach to his existing offerings.

Berrios, 29, had one hell of a rebound last year, posting a 3.65 ERA and 116 ERA+ across 32 starts and just under 190 innings of work. He has given the Blue Jays another ace-like pitcher, continuing the trend of strong starters coming out of this organization. He has seven strikeouts in just over eight innings of work this spring across three starts. In that time, he has a sparkling 1.08 ERA, which leads the Blue Jays.

On Wednesday, Berrios shut down the Yankees' spring squad over 3.1 innings of work, throwing 63 pitches and allowing a run on three hits with as many strikeouts.

Zwelling and Nicholson-Smith mention that as of right now, a trio of Berrios, Chris Bassitt and Yusei Kikuchi are in line to start the first three games of the 2024 regular season for the Blue Jays. Bowden Francis is the leading candidate to snag the No. 4 starter role but Alek Manoah has his own injury uncertainties to fight through right now. That means that two of the five spots in the rotation are question marks.

It remains to be seen how Gausman and/or Manoah are going to bounce back from their respective injuries. If the former can be ready in time for Opening Day, he'll likely slot in behind the trio of Berrios-Bassitt-Kikuchi and be eased into action. The latter is a gigantic unknown, and could conceivably be nearing the end of his tenure on the Blue Jays. Clearly, some of the uncertainties around the rotation have not been addressed yet, but we're going to be receiving some clarity one way or another in the very near future.