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Estrada named Opening Day starter

MLB.com @gregorMLB

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- One of the worst-kept secrets in all of baseball was made official on Sunday afternoon as Blue Jays manager John Gibbons announced veteran right-hander Marco Estrada will be his Opening Day starter.

Estrada will start the season opener on April 3 in Baltimore. J.A. Happ will pitch the second game of that series, and he will then be followed by Marcus Stroman, Francisco Liriano and Aaron Sanchez.

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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- One of the worst-kept secrets in all of baseball was made official on Sunday afternoon as Blue Jays manager John Gibbons announced veteran right-hander Marco Estrada will be his Opening Day starter.

Estrada will start the season opener on April 3 in Baltimore. J.A. Happ will pitch the second game of that series, and he will then be followed by Marcus Stroman, Francisco Liriano and Aaron Sanchez.

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The latest development had been known for at least the last several days. Sportsnet's Arash Madani was the first to report the order of the rotation early last week, and while the club initially declined to comment, Gibbons made it official following Sunday's 2-1 loss to the O's.

Estrada wasn't available to speak to the media following Sunday's late-afternoon announcement, but he is expected to hold an availability later this week. It's the first time in Estrada's career that he has been named a No. 1 starter, and it comes on the heels of a season in which he went 9-9 with a 3.48 ERA.

The Blue Jays really could have gone with any of their starters on Opening Day, but this particular alignment accomplishes several key goals. It breaks up the two lefties in the rotation, and it also separates Sanchez and Stroman, who throw a lot of sinkers. This should help the Blue Jays provide a different look every night to the opposing team with the goal of making teams as uncomfortable as possible in the box.

"That was part of it, amongst some other things, and I think that's important to do," Gibbons said of separating the lefties and the sinkerballers.

Tweet from @BlueJays: Gibby has named our starting rotation!Estrada, Happ, Stroman, Liriano & Sanchez pic.twitter.com/8vSHwYUBVM

Sanchez as the supposed No. 5 starter would have come as a major shock a couple of months ago, but as camp progressed, it became expected. Sanchez had a delayed start to Spring Training because the Blue Jays wanted to give him a longer break following last year's heavy workload that went deep into October.

Toronto won't need to use Sanchez until April 8 against Tampa Bay. That will allow him to start Monday night vs. the Phillies and in a Minor League game early next month. His spot as the No. 5 starter has nothing to do with results, and he'll still likely be viewed as the ace of the staff by most people.

Blue Jays starters led the American League last season in innings (995 1/3), ERA (3.64), opponents' batting average (.236) and WHIP (1.22). More of the same can't be guaranteed in 2017, but it will have to be expected if this team wants to get back into the postseason for a third consecutive year.

"They'll back down a little bit, just as a refresher," Gibbons said of limiting the innings over the final turn through the spring rotation. "We'll throw a couple of the starters in Montreal [on Friday and Saturday], which is a little bit different and kind of nice.

"We have that off-day before the season starts. It will be Stroman that first night in Montreal and then Liriano the next day. They'll all back down a hair, but Sanchez needs to rev it up one more time, get that one extra start."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Marco Estrada