Bi­agini mak­ing case for spot in ro­ta­tion

Fi­nal weeks of sea­son will help de­cide 2018 starters


MIN­NEAPO­LIS— The end of Joe Bi­agini’s ap­pren­tice­ship with the Blue Jays’ ro­ta­tion is near and as de­ci­sion time bears down, the loom­ing ques­tion re­mains: can the 27-year-old make it as a big-league starter?

Bi­agini — who has made clear his de­sire to be­come one of Toronto’s five main arms on a per­ma­nent ba­sis — has two weeks left to help so­lid­ify that an­swer for the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

If the team con­tinue to cy­cle through its ro­ta­tion as it has over the course of this last month, the right han­der will be af­forded three more starts be­fore the sea­son wraps up in New York at the be­gin­ning of Oc­to­ber.

The only ob­vi­ous way that might change would be if Brett An­der­son is forced to miss time thanks to a blis­ter he de­vel­oped in this past Thurs­day’s out­ing; the lefty played catch on Saturday and said he was mon­i­tor­ing the hot spot, which re­mains a day-to­day is­sue.

Man­ager John Gib­bons ex­pects the few up­com­ing times he and the Blue Jays’ front of­fice see Bi­agini in ac­tion will help them make a de­ci­sion about what his role will be next year.

“He’s got the stuff to do it,” Gib­bons said on Saturday, the day be­fore Bi­agini was ex­pected to make one of his re­main­ing starts here, in the fi­nale of a four-game series against the Min­nesota Twins.

The dilemma, the man­ager said, is that Bi­agini has al­ready proven he can be an as­set in the bullpen, a long arm who the club can turn to for mul­ti­ple late in­nings. The pitcher is bat­tling his own stel­lar rep­u­ta­tion as he tries to make a case for a new part.

“You’ve got to kind of weigh that ... you leave a gap­ing hole down there if you take him out and make him a full-time starter,” Gib­bons said.

So far, Bi­agini’s time as the ro­ta­tion’s go-to un­der­study—made nec­es­sary pri­mar­ily be­cause of Aaron Sanchez’s sea­son-long blis­ter trou­ble—has earned mix re­views. He pitched 542⁄ in­nings over his first 11

3 starts be­tween May 7 and July 2, go­ing as long as seven in­nings but be­ing pulled af­ter just one mid­way through the stint. Bi­agini al­low­ing 39 runs off 60 hits and wracked up a 5.60 ERA over that pe­riod.

Gib­bons called it a “tough time” for Bi­agini, who was sent back down to Toronto’s Triple-A af­fil­i­ate, the Buf­falo Bisons, in Au­gust to work on a cou­ple things, in­clud­ing in­cor­po­rat­ing his full windup into his pitch­ing.

In his four starts since re­turn­ing, Bi­agini has once against strug­gled with con­sis­tency, throw­ing lit­tle more than three frames on a pair of oc­ca­sions while go­ing seven and eight in­nings re­spec­tively in his other two out­ings. His ERA has im­proved slightly, to 4.91.

“He’s got to be get­ting ground balls. That’s his game. I think where he’s run into trou­ble, he’s been up too much,” Gib­bons said.

Toronto’s bullpen, even with­out Bi­agini, has been one of the sur­pris­ing bright spots in an oth­er­wise dreary sea­son. Ryan Tepera, Do­minic Leone and Danny Barnes have all blos­somed; Roberto Osuna has had his strug­gles but is still the go-to closer in the Blue Jays’ eyes; and the likes of young­sters Tim Mayza, Luis San­tos and Carlos Ramirez have im­pressed down the stretch.

Still, Gib­bons said you can never have enough long arms in re­lief.

“You try to elim­i­nate that gap, get­ting to your cer­tain guys,” he said.

That doesn’t mean Bi­agini is a shoein for a re­turn, though. Gib­bons won’t say which role he prefers for his player, but can see both sides of the ar­gu­ment, in­clud­ing the business of bring­ing some­one new into the ro­ta­tion. The Blue Jays will need an ad­di­tion no mat­ter what hap­pens to Sanchez next sea­son, af­ter deal­ing left han­der Fran­cisco Liri­ano at the trade dead­line.

“To sign those starters it costs some pretty good money so I think it’s go­ing to be wait and see and then take a vote,” Gib­bons said.

Joe Bi­agini should have three more starts this sea­son to show the Jays what he can do.

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