This is the first in a series of three blogs looking at the current state of the Blue Jays as they head into the 2010 season. Today, we examine the starting rotation.
Starting pitching has been a strength of the Blue Jays’ organization in recent years, thanks in no small part to being able to send Roy Halladay to the mound every fifth day. Of course, thanks to an off-season trade that sent Halladay to Philadelphia in exchange for prospects (a necessary trade, by the way), manager Cito Gaston no longer has that luxury.
Instead, he will be relying on a young group who will no doubt experience some bumps along the way, but will be looked upon to step up and replace some of the 239 innings that Doc provided last season. Let’s take a look at some of the guys likely to get the call for the Jays this year.
With Halladay gone, Romero enters his second season with the team as their ace. It’s a pretty big shift from a year ago at this time, when he and Seattle’s Jeff Clement were looked at as the only busts among the top picks in the star-studded 2005 MLB draft.
True, the left-hander attains the No. 1 slot based mostly on a dearth of other viable options, but he wouldn’t find himself in this position had he not showed promise in an encouraging 13-9 campaign last year. It will be interesting to see whether he can start the season as he did a year ago, when he went 2-0 with a 1.71 ERA in three April starts.
During a disappointing 2009 season, there aren’t many Jays who could have been more frustrated than Shaun Marcum. The 28-year old learned in late 2008 that he would need Tommy John surgery and, thus, be shut down for the following season, just as he had come off two breakthrough campaigns.
Between 2007 and 2008, Marcum earned a 21-13 record with a 3.77 ERA, and had established himself as a starter. He is not a flame-thrower, but rather a control pitcher who induces plenty of ground balls and, thus, relies upon his infield defence behind him. If he can get back to his pre-surgery form, he is a major asset to the team and might even be the most reliable arm on the staff. However, that is a fairly big ‘if’.
A newcomer who joined the Jays after an off-season trade from Seattle, Morrow has already fallen victim to the injury bug this spring, missing a start due to shoulder soreness. The team is, understandably, taking every precaution they can and he has since been cleared to resume throwing.
Even aside from the injury concerns, the 25-year old brings his share of questions to the table. While the Mariners toyed with the idea of starting Morrow at times, he served primarily as a reliever for them and, therefore, has never pitched more than 70 innings in a season. He certainly has a major league arsenal, with a mid-90’s fastball and various breaking pitches, but control has always been a weakness and it remains to be seen how he will respond to an increased workload.
Rzepczynski is the perfect example of a pitcher who could use more seasoning in the minors, but is being called upon for major league service with the Jays in rebuilding mode. In no way did the lefty embarrass himself in a short stint with the big club last season (seven quality starts and two wins in 11 starts), but being brought along slowly would help him harness his raw talent and gain confidence through success in the minors.
Now, Rzepczynski could very well get a few wins and a few strikeouts as a starter for Toronto, but he is also going to be looked upon to eat innings against the world’s best players. Is his arm – and his psyche – up to the challenge?
Like Morrow, Tallet is in the midst of a conversion from reliever to starter. The 6’7” Tallet had his moments as a starter during the 2009 season, but never really gained any consistent reliability. Take his first four outings last June, for example. He gave up five earned runs in a loss to Los Angeles (AL), then shut out the Rangers, then lasted only 3.1 innings when he gave up eight runs to the Marlins, but returned to allow only one run over five innings against the Nationals the next time out.
Even with the rotation overhaul, he is still the fifth starter on a team with options behind him, so the pressure isn’t huge. If he can offer up a reliable five or six innings each time he goes out, it enables the team to bring their younger arms along slowly and offer them work in the minors.
The Other Guys
Once Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litsch are healthy and ready to return, they will immediately become viable rotation options for the Jays. McGowan was throwing from the mound earlier in the spring before getting shut down with what’s known as “dead arm” and could be back with the Jays as early as May. If he regains his velocity and movement that he had prior to shoulder surgery, he can move all the way up to the No. 3 spot in the rotation. Litsch, meanwhile, is not as far along after elbow surgery but is projected to be healthy again come June or July.
Dana Eveland, Brett Cecil, David Purcey and Brad Mills all have major league starting experience and could be called upon in the event of injuries, or if any of them begin to wow the organization with their play at Triple A Las Vegas 51’s of the PCL. Kyle Drabek, meanwhile, will be monitored closely as the top pitching prospect in the Jays’ system.
About the Author
Written by Ben Fisher