Nearly a quarter of the way into the 2014 season, the starting rotation is quickly becoming a huge problem for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Aside from a great start to the season by Mark Buehrle, every other starting pitcher on the team has struggled out of the gate.
Opening Day starter R.A. Dickey has posted a 4.72 ERA in eight starts. He’s also leading all pitchers on the team in walks with 25.
Brandon Morrow—now on the 60-day DL with a finger injury—was arguably the worst starter in the rotation during the first month of the season. In six starts, the right-hander had a team-high 5.93 ERA and a WHIP of 1.72.
Drew Hutchison has been solid but unspectacular in his return from Tommy John surgery that cost him all of last season. The 23-year-old has posted a 4.37 ERA in eight starts.
That type of production from Hutchison would’ve have been acceptable had he been the fifth pitcher on the rotation. But, because of a lack of depth, the team is relying on the young right-hander to be the No. 3 pitcher on the staff and produce at a higher level than he currently has.
Dustin McGowan has been underwhelming after returning to the rotation for the first time since 2008. The 32-year-old has 4.73 ERA in seven starts.
Oh, and Morrow’s replacement J.A. Happ? He has a 4.91 ERA in two starts.
ERAs aside, the Blue Jays’ rotation has also struggled to pitch deep into games.
Dickey and Hutchison have averaged just over five innings pitched per start. McGowan, Happ and Morrow have been even worse, as they’ve all averaged around four innings a start.
This is mainly a result of surrendering too many walks—Toronto’s starters lead the AL with 89 walks allowed—which leads to a high pitch count and a quick exit.
As a result, the team’s bullpen has been forced to come into the games early and pitch multiple innings.
Toronto’s relievers have already thrown the third-highest number of innings in the AL this season. This could quickly tire out the bullpen and might even lead to injuries in the future.
So what could Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos do to solve the issues in the starting rotation?
Buehrle, Dickey and Hutchison are all locks at this point and will retain their spots regardless of performance.
McGowan might be shifted back to the bullpen if he continues to struggle pitching deep into games. The right-hander was very effective as a reliever last season, posting a 2.45 in 25.2 innings pitched.
Happ might not have a very long leash either, as he struggled in the rotation last season and has very mediocre career numbers as a starter. The team could move him to the bullpen or even look to trade him, considering that the left-hander has stated in the past that he wants to continue to start.
Highly touted prospect Marcus Stroman—who has already been called up and is in the bullpen—could be moved into the rotation. The 23-year-old had a 1.69 ERA in five starts for the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons this season before his call-up.
Left-hander Sean Nolin—rated the team’s No. 10 prospect by MLB.com—has also been effective in Triple-A, posting a 2.34 ERA in six starts. The Blue Jays could consider promoting him.
Toronto could also opt to use long reliever Todd Redmond in the rotation as a short-term fix.
Regardless of what Anthopoulos decides to do, the Blue Jays will need their starting rotation to be a lot better in order to have a chance to contend.
*All stats are from baseball-reference.com
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