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5 Toronto starters who have 2020 'pen potential

@KeeganMatheson
July 6, 2020

TORONTO -- The shortened 60-game season opens itself to pitching strategies that will vary drastically between each club, and the Blue Jays’ most interesting opportunities come where the back end of their rotation meets their bullpen. Toronto’s starting-pitching depth was already impressive when there was a need to fill Double-A

TORONTO -- The shortened 60-game season opens itself to pitching strategies that will vary drastically between each club, and the Blue Jays’ most interesting opportunities come where the back end of their rotation meets their bullpen.

Toronto’s starting-pitching depth was already impressive when there was a need to fill Double-A and Triple-A rotations, so with only one roster to fill, it can get creative. The Blue Jays’ bullpen competition still has a handful of spots open, and the club will need multi-inning arms not just to mop up innings, but also as part of its active strategy.

After ramping down following the shutdown, the Blue Jays ramped their pitchers back up recently and are happy with how the timing lined up. Their starters are throwing anywhere from one inning of live batting practice to four-inning simulated games at this point, and with Opening Day already fast approaching on July 23 or 24, it’s not likely you’ll see complete games and 115 pitches out of the gate.

“What we’ll focus on is competitiveness and less on bulk as they start the season,” said general manager Ross Atkins. “If one of our starting pitchers is only able to make it three or four innings in his first start, then we’ll be ready to offset that. We’d rather be sure that the effectiveness and the health is at the forefront.”

Atkins, who was hesitant to shorten up any young starters in spring, has understandably changed his tune. For some of these young arms who have MLB-ready stuff, a spot on the 30-man active roster out of Summer Camp could aid their development while still filling a valuable role.

“We’ll be looking to maximize our chances to win and capitalize on the best development opportunity we have," Atkins said, “which is currently at the Major League level.”

Here are five starters to keep in mind for potential bullpen or hybrid roles:

RHP Thomas Hatch, 25
Acquired for reliever David Phelps in a 2019 deal that already looks great for the Blue Jays, Hatch has spent the last two seasons in Double-A. It’s time for a change, and with no middle ground in Triple-A, he’ll be considered for a Major League role. Hatch posted a 2.80 ERA over 35 1/3 innings after the trade and made a good first impression on manager Charlie Montoyo this spring, so there should be an opportunity to see how his fastball-slider combination could play up in a multi-inning role.

RHP Julian Merryweather, 28
Merryweather, who the Blue Jays acquired from Cleveland for Josh Donaldson in 2018, has pitched a combined 12 innings between the Minor Leagues and the Arizona Fall League since the end of 2017 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He’s taken the long road, but there’s no time like the present for him to find a role.

This spring, Merryweather’s fastball reached into the upper 90s, and from both his radar numbers and his energy around the ballpark, it was easy to see that he was finally healthy. There are variables with Merryweather, but there also might be 100 mph in that arm.

LHP Anthony Kay, 25
The club’s No. 10 prospect struggled in Spring Training (7.36 ERA), but his willingness to attack hitters left an impression on Montoyo late last season. Some further polish at Triple-A would be the ideal choice in a perfect world, but Kay is certainly “ready enough” to contribute this season. The lefty’s four-seam fastball averaged 93.4 mph in his brief 2019 debut, and he’s not afraid to move it around, but it’s his hammering curveball that could really be a weapon in shorter stints.

RHP Patrick Murphy, 25
Murphy’s toe-tap delivery was ruled illegal midway through 2019, which threw a wrench into his season as he worked to find a comfortable alternative. As long as he’s able to keep his delivery in sync, which should be easier over shorter bursts, Murphy has a fastball and curveball that might already fit in an MLB bullpen. The Blue Jays still view him as a starter, but his raw tools could quickly be repurposed.

LHP Ryan Borucki, 26
Borucki’s impressive 2018 debut feels further away than it is, and another nagging injury -- left elbow tightness this time -- slowed him down in spring. Without a rotation spot, though, the left-hander could benefit from the innings if he’s healthy, which would set up as an opportunity for him to re-establish himself.

Borucki said in February that he prefers starting, noting that his natural pitching style is to ease in and work through the full game rather than come out throwing max effort for one or two innings. That’s sensible from Borucki, who knows his style and arm very well, but new doors could be open now.

Keegan Matheson is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.