MINNEAPOLIS -- In just a few days, Mitch White has gone from a swingman to a very important man.
The day after the Blue Jays acquired him from the Dodgers ahead of the Trade Deadline, Ross Stripling landed on the IL with a right hip strain. After we’d all spent the past 24 hours talking about the similarities between the two, it lined up perfectly for White to step into the rotation.
His Blue Jays debut in Saturday’s 7-3 loss to the Twins at Target Field was just fine. He didn’t dominate, didn’t struggle, and when you consider that it all happened in a steady rain, that’s enough of an accomplishment for Day 1. Going forward, though, the Blue Jays need the new guy to be more than just depth. He’s a key piece in a postseason run now.
This is what the Blue Jays had in mind eventually, but not so soon and not so prominently.
“Crappy game conditions, but I thought he pitched well,” interim manager John Schneider said. “I thought he got a little bit better as he went and threw strikes. That’s a tough lineup to navigate when you have a bunch of lefties together. His breaking ball was good, his heater was good and it’s definitely an outing to build off of.”
It’s been a whirlwind few days for White. He’s changed teams, pitching coaches and catchers, but he’s settled in nicely thanks to the philosophy this group tends to take with new arms.
“They’ve all been great, from [catcher Danny] Jansen to [pitching coach Pete] Walker and [bullpen coach and director of pitching development Matt] Buschmann,” White said. “They’ve been great at emphasizing I continue with what I have been doing and not trying to make it a fresh start. Just do what I do. It’s been pretty smooth.”
White doesn’t quite throw the “kitchen sink” that Stripling always references -- perhaps it’s a smaller sink -- but he still offers a deep mix and a fastball that reached up to 95.3 mph Saturday. Creating swings and misses will be key, though, after getting just five whiffs on 44 swings (11%) Saturday, especially when he runs up against a lineup like the mighty Yankees.
The role of the swingman has changed quickly to fit the modern game, and White is a fine example of that. Not that long ago, the swingman or long reliever was a rubber arm who couldn’t stick in the rotation, but couldn’t cut it in high-leverage spots. Now, it’s a role teams are actively trying to draft, develop and find success with at the Major League level.
“You see it more and more in the game today,” GM Ross Atkins said at the Trade Deadline. “It really comes down to the ability to start that is so attractive, someone that can go five or six innings and throw 100 pitches. He has the ability to get right-handers and left-handers out. He obviously has the arsenal to do that and the athleticism to hold up.”
This is a byproduct of modern starting pitching. Gone are the days of two or three starters in a rotation throwing seven innings a night and 200-plus innings a season. Arms like Stripling and White are needed to bridge the gap, because a team can’t have 12 relievers, and they’re being cross-trained as starters. Those who embrace it and do it well, like the pending free agent Stripling, will soon start to see just how much clubs are valuing this on the open market, too.
Any pressure the Blue Jays can take off this bullpen is a bonus, because that group took a major blow Saturday. Coming in on a squeeze play, trying to make the scoop and tag at home, left-hander Tim Mayza dislocated his right shoulder. Mayza was in significant pain on the field before leaving with two trainers.
The Blue Jays have Matt Gage around as an easy option to replace the left-hander while Tayler Saucedo, who’s still officially on a rehab assignment from his 60-day IL stint, should be ready for another shot after a great run in Triple-A lately. Whoever it is, though, they’ll be stepping in as the club’s top lefty. It’s no small task.
Similarly, White represents that last line of proven MLB depth on the pitching side.
When Hyun Jin Ryu went down earlier this season, Stripling stepped in and ran with it. He’s quietly been one of the most valuable players on this roster, saving the Blue Jays from needing to churn through depth and roster spots, and now it’s White’s turn to do the same with the stakes even higher.