Zeuch makes strong bid for postseason spot

September 27th, 2020

Making a late start after Toronto chose to rest Matt Shoemaker for the postseason, right-hander T.J. Zeuch gave the Blue Jays everything they could have hoped for.

It was a very “Zeuch” line, too, as the ground-ball artist went five scoreless innings without allowing a walk or striking out a batter. Zeuch’s 11 groundouts came thanks to his sinking fastball, which was giving the Orioles’ fits as the game breezed along.

The 5-2 win was Toronto’s fourth in a row and sixth in its last seven games as it continues to build momentum for the postseason. Zeuch’s 75 pitches make it unlikely he’d be able to throw again in the early games of the Wild Card Series, which could leave him off the postseason roster, at least initially. Manager Charlie Montoyo said after the win that the Blue Jays were discussing Zeuch more now, though, “because of what he’s done.”

Saturday’s start was still a valuable contribution regardless of where Zeuch finds himself on Tuesday, which is what team leader Caleb Joseph touched on in his viral speech on the mound of Sahlen Field after the Blue Jays clinched their spot in the postseason with Thursday's win over the Yankees.

“We’ve had guys that came in and played one pitch, one inning, 55 innings, 55 games,” Joseph said. “Every person around this circle made a huge impact on the ballclub. Way to go. Guys that didn’t even play on this team, they were helping us get ready in Rochester. Everybody here made a gigantic contribution.”

Zeuch’s prior two outings this season were in long relief, which would be his role if he does find himself on the roster at any point in the postseason. The Blue Jays have plenty of multi-inning arms to choose from, though, which can be broken down into groups:

High-leverage upside: Nate Pearson, Thomas Hatch
Pearson emphatically announced his return from a flexor strain on Friday, hitting 101.5 mph on the radar gun while looking completely comfortable coming out of the bullpen. The Blue Jays want to give him extra time to heat up in the bullpen, which allows him to reach that velocity, but the club’s No. 1 prospect is a great candidate to be the Blue Jays’ X-factor with talent that can simply take over a game. Hatch, on the other hand, has faded in September after an excellent start to 2020, but Montoyo is strategically resting him ahead of the postseason so that he’ll be at 100 percent. When he’s on, Hatch is capable of keeping his velocity in the upper 90s over multiple innings and has kept the ball in the park.

Established vets in flexible roles: Ross Stripling, Chase Anderson and Robbie Ray
Stripling is a valuable piece of this pitching staff, both in 2020 and beyond. The Blue Jays could eventually find a matchup where they’d like to piggyback him off a starter, but he’s likelier to be used as a traditional “long man.” There’s no such thing as a mop-up appearance in the postseason, where teams will refuse to wave the white flag, but Stripling’s versatility could give him a few paths to the mound. Stripling did leave Saturday’s game with a shin contusion after taking a comebacker, joining Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who left early with a foot contusion, but Montoyo said that both players were “fine” after the game.

Ray is a candidate to start, potentially if the Wild Card Series goes to Game 3, but he’ll be available in those early games. A bullpen appearance could suit him just fine, though, and if Ray’s control continues to be an issue, the Blue Jays would rather have a quick hook with a middle-inning reliever than a starter. Ray’s upside is similar to that of Anderson, who looked sharp in another relief appearance on Saturday, throwing two innings of one-hit ball with four strikeouts.

“Another guy that had an outstanding outing,” Montoyo said of Anderson. “That was good to see. He was really good. That [role] is what he’ll do.”

Young and on the bubble: Anthony Kay, Patrick Murphy
Kay held a 2.45 ERA on Sept. 8 with an aggressive approach that looked tailor-made for the postseason, then two tough outings ballooned that number to 5.14. He was being trusted with higher-leverage innings when he was clicking, but he’s still trying to climb back up the ladder and onto the roster. Murphy, on the other hand, has been with the team just over a week, but has looked sharp over four innings.

On the outside looking in: Tanner Roark, Shun Yamaguchi
With the names mentioned above, where do Roark and Yamaguchi fit? Perhaps there’s more room for one or both in a five- or seven-game series, but the Wild Card Series will be a sprint. Both have home run tendencies and wouldn’t be in line for high-leverage innings, making them unlikely fits at this point in the postseason.