Montoyo keeping WC rotation options 'open'

September 26th, 2020

When the Blue Jays released Saturday’s lineup for their game against the Orioles, T.J. Zeuch’s name was listed where we expected to see Matt Shoemaker's. Things only grew more intriguing -- and mysterious -- from there.

Shoemaker, who’d originally been slated to start in a final tune-up for the postseason and presumed start in Game 3, is now being held out to stay fresh for the Wild Card Series. It’s just less clear, now, which game and role he’ll fill.

“We’re going to keep our options open,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “We don’t know who we’re going to play yet, so he’s going to be part of the equation. We want to save him. We don’t want him to pitch [tonight]. He’s fine.”

The three important characters in this case are Shoemaker, ace Hyun Jin Ryu and Taijuan Walker. The facts, as we know them today, are:

• Shoemaker last threw 54 pitches on Sept. 21, but Montoyo says he’ll be able to keep himself sharp despite the longer layoff.

• On Thursday, Ryu threw 100 pitches and seven full innings -- more than any Blue Jays starter this season -- in a win over the Yankees to clinch a postseason spot.

• Ryu was “a little sore” after that workload.

• The very next day, the Blue Jays limited Walker to just three innings on 42 pitches to keep him fresh for the playoffs.

So when Montoyo said that he’s keeping his options open, he wasn’t just talking about Shoemaker. Repeating what general manager Ross Atkins said on Friday, Montoyo would not commit to Ryu as his Game 1 starter, leaving the door open to pitching him in Game 2 with an extra day of rest.

“I’m comfortable with him anywhere. It’s all about how he feels and he threw a lot of pitches, so we’ll see how he feels,” Montoyo said. "At the end of the day, it’s about how he feels. Wherever we put him, I know we’re going to have a chance. Either [Game] 1 or 2, we’ll see.”

This begs the question: Is Ryu just sore, or is it something more?

“He’s fine. He really is,” Montoyo insisted. “I’m just keeping my options open.”

The 2020 season is a difficult measuring stick to use, given how unique the season has been, but of Ryu’s 12 starts with the Blue Jays, he started on regular rest four times and extra rest eight times. Ryu’s numbers were slightly better with the added day, but his 2.74 ERA pitching on regular rest was just fine, too.

Regardless of the order, it still seems like the Blue Jays will use Ryu and Walker to start Games 1 and 2 of the series. Shoemaker will now be available out of the bullpen in both of those games, and if Game 3 is necessary, he could also be available then. This could open the door more to a Robbie Ray start in Game 3, and Ray threw a bullpen session on Saturday afternoon in Buffalo.

Soon after Montoyo shared these details, the Rays, who the Blue Jays will likely face in the Wild Card Series, laid out their postseason rotation of Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton. That’s the simpler way to do it, but the Blue Jays haven’t done much simply in 2020, and part of that is by design.

Just as Shoemaker could be available in Game 1, so could Chase Anderson or even Ray. There’s also a deep group of relievers to pick from, many of whom are young starters that have converted for the shortened season, which is why the Blue Jays rarely let their starters see an opposing lineup a third time.

The Blue Jays have shown in 2020 that there are plenty of ways to piece together 27 outs. Saturday’s pitching change creates more questions than answers, but more than anything, it hints at the Blue Jays being even more creative in the postseason.