Uniqueness of each starter gives Blue Jays a valuable mix

March 11th, 2023

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays have built a variety pack of pitchers, and it’s important how those flavors all mix.

The most complicated of the bunch is , whose laundry list of pitches has been an endearing running joke in camp: said he throws 40 different pitches.  later joked that it was 10 or 20. You get the point.

When you pair such a unique mix alongside Gausman’s elite splitter, Manoah’s pedal-to-the-floor style of attacking hitters and ’ breaking ball, it’s a different look each day for opposing hitters. Add in  as the hard-throwing lefty, and the Blue Jays are checking off a lot of different boxes.

“That’s something I’ve always felt, even last year,” Gausman said earlier this week. “If you have a four-game series, you’re seeing a completely different starter every night. Even if it’s Manoah and Berríos back-to-back, their stuff is just different. They’re both sinker-slider guys, but the way the ball comes out of Manoah’s hand is a lot different than mine and way different than Bassitt.”

In Saturday’s 8-6 win against the Orioles, Bassitt got up to 61 pitches, the only number that matters to the veteran, who was focused on building up his arm in his third start of the spring. Like his teammates, Bassitt has shown that he loves the layers this rotation has, even among its right-handers.

It should come down to Gausman or Manoah to start Opening Day. After that’s settled, though, the hottest spot in the rotation might be right behind Bassitt.

“Whoever is [pitching] the day after him is going to have a lot of fun,” Gausman said. “He throws 10 different pitches and can really mess guys up. I’ve been on some staffs where guys had pretty similar stuff and I always felt like teams could figure out a plan of attack.”

The pitch timer matters here, too. 

Some starting pitchers will develop a rhythm where they begin their delivery around the three-second mark each and every time. Others will play with the clock, using it as another tool to create awkward and uncomfortable at-bats for the batter at the plate.

Bassitt did just that on Saturday, as he breezed through the first inning, striking out the side. He pitched with a regular rhythm at points, but he made great use of the clock against the young Gunnar Henderson. For a couple of pitches in that at-bat, Bassitt readied early on the mound and then stared down Henderson, waiting for the last possible moment before he began his delivery.

“I was just pushing the limits a little bit right now to get comfortable with it,” Bassitt said. “There will be situations that are new to everyone, umpires included, so it’s just about figuring out what those are.”

This will impact different hitters in different ways, but regardless, it’s one more layer of unpredictability from pitcher to pitcher. Bassitt is the exact type of pitcher who should benefit from it, and with the way he’s been working around camp, that should wear off on others.

In the early days of spring, you’d often find the rest of the Blue Jays’ starters crowded behind a mound at the club’s complex watching their teammate throw a bullpen session. This isn’t uncommon across baseball, but for pitchers making big salaries with big track records, it’s not exactly a requirement. Bassitt is typically planted in the middle of that group.

“He’s a smart, veteran guy who knows what to do out there and wants to get better,” Gausman said. “You see some guys who sign a big deal and they’re fine being the guy they are. When you talk to him every day, he wants to get better. You watch his bullpens and he’s always thinking cerebrally. He’s been at a ton of [Spring Training] games watching guys when he could be home with his kids.”

Health will be the biggest factor here, as it always is, but this is a rotation capable of quantity alongside its quality.

Manoah threw 196 2/3 innings last season. Gausman had 174 2/3 while Berrios had 172. Over with the Mets, Bassitt threw 181 2/3 frames. These four are fully capable of pushing past 700 innings as a group, and with some combination of Kikuchi, , No. 1 prospect Ricky Tiedemann and  returning later this season from Tommy John surgery, the No. 5 spot should be just fine as well.

While those innings climb, though, this group is focused on being uncomfortable for opponents, and given their mix of styles, that advantage is already built in.