Pitching dis­ap­pointed, for starters

Blue Jays put the ‘rot’ in ro­ta­tion with poor per­for­mances

Waterloo Region Record - - Sports - RICHARD GRIF­FIN

TORONTO — There has been much fin­ger-point­ing by ob­servers, fans and within team man­age­ment to iden­tify the big­gest rea­sons why the 2018 Toronto Blue Jays failed so dra­mat­i­cally.

With­out a doubt, the key to the col­lapse for a team that may not win 70 games was an un­der­achiev­ing start­ing ro­ta­tion — the group of five that, at the start of the year, in­cluded J.A. Happ, Mar­cus Stro­man, Marco Estrada, Aaron Sanchez and Jaime Gar­cia.

Even in the qui­etest mo­ments back at spring train­ing, after Gar­cia had signed as a US$10mil­lion free agent to be­come the Jays’ fifth starter, there was se­ri­ous de­bate among vet­eran me­dia as to where in Ma­jor League Base­ball’s Amer­i­can League East the Jays’ ro­ta­tion should be ranked. In­formed opin­ions (or so we thought) had the Jays, Red Sox and Yan­kees 1-2-3 in var­i­ous ar­guable or­ders. Wow! How mis­guided was that logic?

The Jays quin­tet, with 16 games re­main­ing and with only Estrada and Sanchez left stand­ing, has com­bined to post a 27-38 record with a 5.13 ERA in 96 starts, av­er­ag­ing just 5 1/3 in­nings per out­ing.

It was not un­rea­son­able to ex­pect much bet­ter. In their best in­di­vid­ual sea­sons — Estrada and Gar­cia in 2015, Happ and Sanchez in ’16, Stro­man in ’17 — the five­some com­bined for a 71-29 record, with 898 2/3 in­nings in 142 starts.

Happ was the only one to meet ex­pec­ta­tions this year. And, be­cause the orig­i­nal five have made just 96 starts, an­other nine pitch­ers have been forced to make the 49 other starts … and count­ing. Not in­clud­ing Thurs­day’s series fi­nale at Fen­way, with Sam Gav­iglio last­ing just 3 1/3 in­nings on the mound, the nine sub starters had com­bined for an 8-21 record with a 5.38 ERA in 241 in­nings.

An un­in­tended ben­e­fit of the ro­ta­tion’s dis­ap­point­ing per­for­mance is that the Jays have had a chance to see prospects such as Ryan Borucki, Thomas Pan­none, Sean Reid-Fo­ley and Gav­iglio, all of whom are mak­ing a pitch to be part of the Jays’ fu­ture. But this col­umn is about 2018 and this year’s dis­ap­point­ment. Here is a sum­mary of the orig­i­nal start­ing five.

J.A. Happ (10-6, 4.18 ERA, 20 starts):

The vet­eran left-han­der was the best Jays player in the first half and a first-time all-star, pick­ing up the save for the AL in a ca­reer high­light mo­ment. But the catch-22 for the Jays is that, as the best pitcher on the team, he was the only one with any value to a con­tender. He was dealt at the dead­line to the Yan­kees. The pieces that came back, out­fielder Billy McKin­ney and util­ity man Bran­don Drury, are part of the Jays’ re­build.

Marco Estrada (7-11, 5.32 ERA, 25 starts):

No­body knows the pain and dis­com­fort that Estrada has been in for many of his starts. But that does not take away from the bot­tom line that, on ei­ther side of his 26 days on the dis­abled list for a glute strain, he has 10 starts of five in­nings or fewer, with a 10.27 ERA in 37 2/3 in­nings. When he was bad, he was very bad. After sign­ing a one-year deal last sum­mer, Estrada he was ex­pected to be the sta­bi­liz­ing force in mid-ro­ta­tion.

Aaron Sanchez (4-6, 4.90 ERA, 19 starts):

The for­mer AL ERA cham­pion is one of the more en­cour­ag­ing late-sea­son sto­ries with the Jays. After a dev­as­tat­ing in­jury — he lost a bat­tle with a suit­case, suf­fered a fin­ger con­tu­sion and missed 64 days — Sanchez has been reg­u­larly reach­ing the 90s in his pitch counts while try­ing to re­gain the com­mand of his sec­ondary pitches and get con­sis­tent move­ment on his two-seam fast­ball. So far, he has an­swered ques­tions pos­i­tively.

Mar­cus Stro­man (4-9, 5.54 ERA, 19 starts):

He was a break­out star at the World Base­ball Clas­sic last year, then went 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA with the Jays, so his 2018 qual­i­fies as the ro­ta­tion’s big­gest dis­ap­point­ment. Stro­man bat­tled what was re­ported as shoul­der fa­tigue early in the year, though it was di­ag­nosed with­out an MRI, and lately has bat­tled fin­ger blis­ters. He has re­luc­tantly been shut down for the sea­son.

In hind­sight, maybe the Jays should have shut him down once they were of­fi­cially out of con­tention, but the chip on Stro­man’s shoul­der pushed him to be the anti-Sanchez and show how tough he was by not miss­ing any starts due to a pesky blis­ter. Even­tu­ally, though, he could not con­tinue. He will have a lot to prove next spring as he is ex­pected to be at the top of the ro­ta­tion with Sanchez. For now, they’re the bruise broth­ers.

Jaime Gar­cia (3-6, 5.93 ERA, 13 starts):

For fans who be­lieve that man­age­ment or­ches­trated this failed sea­son so they could ad­vance their plan for a re­build, Gar­cia is Ex­hibit A against that ar­gu­ment. If that had been the plan, they would not have signed a vet­eran fifth starter for $10 mil­lion. Gar­cia seemed like a solid ad­di­tion in Fe­bru­ary but, when the sea­son be­gan and the team needed him to step up, his con­trol and com­mand de­serted him.

It’s pos­si­ble the Jays could en­ter the 2019 sea­son with­out any pitcher older than 30. If you take the 30-plus Kendrys Mo­rales out of the equa­tion — with his one game of emer­gency re­lief — there are cur­rently four 30-plus hurlers on the ros­ter. Two of them, Estrada and Tyler Clip­pard, will be free agents.

CHARLES KRUPA THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Aaron Sanchez was sup­posed to help an­chor the Blue Jays elite pitching crew, writes Richard Grif­fin, but it did not pan out.

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