When are the Blue Jays going to give Marcus Stroman a chance? He has been tearing it up in the Minor Leagues and with the starting rotation struggling, he seems like a perfect fit.
-- Scott B., Moncton, New Brunswick
Stroman's time in the Major Leagues could be rapidly approaching. He was originally scheduled to pitch for Triple-A Buffalo on Saturday, but he had his start pushed back to Tuesday because of rain. The timing of that outing is particularly important because it lines up perfectly with Dustin McGowan's start in Kansas City.
McGowan will make at least one more outing, but after that his future in the starting rotation is very much in doubt. He recently admitted to feeling fatigued around the 60-pitch mark, and that will have to change very quickly if he's going to remain in his current role. McGowan has thrown more than four innings just once this season, and the Blue Jays desperately need their starters to pitch deeper into games.
If McGowan doesn't figure things out in Kansas City, then it's possible Stroman will get the call. He has been borderline dominant for Buffalo this season and currently is 1-2 with a 2.18 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings. Earlier this spring, the Blue Jays wanted to give Stroman some more seasoning in the Minor Leagues, but it would appear as though he is more or less ready for the next step.
Stroman's changeup remains a work in progress, but his fastball and slider are both Major League-caliber. His biggest challenge is consistently keeping the ball down in the zone as his pitches sometimes tend to flatten out and remain up in the zone. Consistent fastball command is something he has been working on with the Bisons and based on the numbers, he seems to have figured it out, at least for now. Stroman could receive consideration for a start on May 4, but McGowan also could buy himself more time with a solid start vs the Royals.
What's with all this talk about going to a six-man rotation? The Blue Jays aren't getting enough innings out of their starters and I fail to see how adding another person in the rotation is going to solve that problem.
-- Tim C., Toronto
There seems to be some genuine concern from the Blue Jays coaching staff about how the current starting five will hold up throughout the regular season. Toronto had the luxury of four off-days during April, which meant the starters often were allowed to pitch with one extra day of rest. That's not going to be possible in May and June as the club plays on 20 consecutive days from April 29-May 18. Another stretch of 13 consecutive games immediately follows, and overall Toronto has just four off-days remaining prior to the All-Star Break.
This is somewhat problematic, because the Blue Jays are also trying to keep a close eye on some members of their rotation. Brandon Morrow (right forearm), Drew Hutchison (Tommy John surgery) and McGowan (right shoulder issues) are all coming off injuries in 2013, and while the reins are coming off, they're not completely free of restrictions. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has openly talked about how an extra day of rest could go a long way in helping them get through the year.
That would seem to open the door for left-hander J.A. Happ, who has been stuck in the bullpen since he was activated from the 15-day disabled list on April 17. Gibbons said they are considering using Happ for a spot start the week of May 4, and it's the type of strategy that could be repeated at least a couple of more times before the All-Star Break. It's not immediately clear how a possible promotion for Stroman would impact this type of move. He would give the Blue Jays another fresh starter, but even if he takes McGowan's spot, that would leave two pitchers who could still benefit from an extra day.
Why was Neil Wagner sent to the Minor Leagues? What happened to the concept of keeping the best 25 players on the 25-man roster? How can the Blue Jays justify that move when he was one of their better relievers?
-- Gerry K., Kitchener, Ontario
The demotion of Wagner is a perfect example of just how cruel the business of baseball can be at times. Wagner seemed to be a perfect fit in the bullpen and gave the Blue Jays another hard throwing right-hander who could enter in middle relief and bridge the gap from the starters to the likes of Brett Cecil, Steve Delabar and Sergio Santos.
Wagner pitched about as well as expected and surrendered just three runs over the course of his 8 2/3 innings. Despite all of that, Wagner was still sent to Triple-A Buffalo, and the only reason is because he still had options remaining on his contract.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos often prefers to hang onto his assets for as long as possible. Esmil Rogers and Todd Redmond cannot be sent to the Minors without clearing waivers, and Happ can block a demotion because of his overall service time. So instead of losing one of those three relievers, Anthopoulos played it safe and optioned Wagner when there was a need for another rested arm in right-hander Chad Jenkins.
Wagner appeared visibly frustrated when he was packing up his locker after receiving the news, and rightfully so. He has a 3.12 ERA this season, while Rogers, Redmond and Happ haven't been nearly as effective in the limited sample sizes from April. The problem here is that Gibbons trusted Wagner enough to use him in close games, and the same can't currently be said about the other three.
When is this experiment with Moises Sierra going to an end? He seems lost at the plate and doesn't offer a lot of versatility on defense, so why is he still on the roster?
-- Brendan M., Winnipeg, Manitoba
Sierra is off to a terrible start this season, and you're not alone in wondering just how long the Blue Jays can afford to keep him around. The problem once again comes down to options and the fact that Sierra cannot be sent to the Minors without passing through waivers.
In an ideal situation, Sierra would be playing every day for Triple-A Buffalo. He's still only 25 years old and needs regular at-bats in order to continue his development, but that's simply not possible in Toronto. Sierra is forced to sit on the bench for long periods of time and only receives an occasional start when Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus or Jose Bautista needs a day off from the field.
That type of bench role is often better suited for a veteran player who knows how to stay sharp and can even benefit from the frequent rest. Mark DeRosa was a perfect example of that last year as he settled into a platoon role with designated hitter Adam Lind and even got some occasional starts at second base. For all the talk of how the Blue Jays needed to add a significant free agent during the offseason, the loss of DeRosa and outfielder Rajai Davis also opened up a couple of glaring holes on the bench.
The one good thing about veteran bench players is that they're often not very hard to find. The Orioles designated utility man Steve Pearce for assignment on Sunday and he could be a logical fit in Toronto, while other names will likely get added to that list in the coming weeks. Sierra also could regain his standing in the organization by heating up at the plate, but that's hard for a young player to do when he's only starting a couple of days a week.
When Casey Janssen returns, do you think he will still be the closer, or are they going to stick with Sergio Santos?
-- Michael G., Buffalo, New York
There's very little doubt in my mind that Janssen will reclaim the closer's role when he eventually returns from an oblique injury. That's not an indictment on how Santos has performed over the past several weeks, but more of a commentary on just how much Janssen's return would help stabilize the Blue Jays bullpen from top to bottom.
If and when Janssen resumes his ninth-inning duties, it will allow the Blue Jays to use Santos in a setup role. His ability to strike out a high percentage of hitters can be particularly valuable when entering the game with runners already on base. That also would allow Gibbons to go with the likes of Delabar, Aaron Loup and Cecil in the sixth or seventh innings and overall there would be a lot more depth.
Santos does have the more prototypical skill set for a closer, but Janssen has always been able to compensate for a lack of velocity by painting the corners and using a large repertoire of pitches to keep hitters off-balance. Gibbons loves the fact that Janssen will go right after hitters and force the opposition to beat him instead of giving away free opportunities with a high number of walks.
Janssen should eventually get his job back, but that doesn't mean the Blue Jays are going to rush his return. He's expected to go on a rehab assignment this week, but he'll need at least a few outings in the Minors before being activated off the 15-day disabled list.
In your opinion, what has been the biggest surprise and the biggest disappointment for the Blue Jays so far this season?
-- Dustin B., Toronto
The biggest surprise for me has been the play of Cabrera. There was always a strong possibility that he was going to bounce back this season after having a tumor removed from his spine last August, but I never expected him to be quite this good. Cabrera is moving a lot better in the field and currently is producing just as well as he ever did in Kansas City and San Francisco.
How good has Cabrera been this season? Well, he just needs one hit on either Tuesday or Wednesday to set the franchise record for the most in March/April. He currently leads the Major Leagues with 39 hits and already has two more home runs than he did all of last season. Add in a .925 OPS, nine RBIs, 17 runs scored and even three stolen bases and the Blue Jays can't ask for much more. An honorable mention goes to veteran left-hander Mark Buehrle, who had one of the best Aprils of his career with four consecutive wins and a 2.16 ERA.
The biggest disappointment has to be the overall performance of the starting rotation. This was a big question mark during Spring Training, and there's still a lot of uncertainty a month into the season. Toronto ranks 27th in the Majors with 134 innings from its starting staff, and that trend simply can't continue if they want to make a realistic run at the postseason.