DUNEDIN, Fla. -- When a manager opens their morning media availability at Spring Training with some news to share, it’s rarely good news. On Friday, Charlie Montoyo’s news was about Ryan Borucki, the 25-year-old left-hander competing for the Blue Jays' No. 5 rotation spot.
Borucki is dealing with left elbow tightness, which popped up recently after he was throwing before camp. This is particularly worrying news for both Toronto and Borucki, given his history of elbow issues, which includes a Tommy John surgery that wiped out his 2013 season and a procedure to remove bone spurs last year after he missed nearly all of last season with inflammation in that same elbow.
The Blue Jays should know more soon, but for now, they’re taking it slow. The good news is that Borucki was in fine spirits on Friday, smiling as he explained that this is much different from his past issues.
“It’s basically all precautionary,” Borucki said. “Not like last year. It's nothing like last year. I know the difference between those kind of things."
After breaking through in 2018 with a 3.87 ERA over 17 Major League starts, Borucki looked to be a comfortable projection as a mid-rotation starter, which is what the Blue Jays were hoping to see again this spring after a lost season.
Behind Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, Matt Shoemaker and Chase Anderson, Borucki was a leading candidate to compete for a spot on the Opening Day roster. There’s a group of young arms who got a taste of the big leagues in 2019, like Trent Thornton, Jacob Waguespack, Anthony Kay and T.J. Zeuch. On the other side, there’s a “prospect” group, led by No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson. Borucki occupied an interesting place in the middle, given his experience and age.
It’s a squeeze for jobs that will be felt through Triple-A Buffalo, too, and it will likely end with someone in the bullpen. Given Borucki’s injury history, it’s logical for Toronto to entertain the idea of Borucki making that shift at some point if he isn’t able to win the No. 5 job. General manager Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays will consider plenty of factors, including how a pitcher was developed, which roles they’ve had success in and the desires of pitchers themselves. That’s a conversation they will have when the time comes.
“At some point, for sure,” Atkins said. “It's not something that is on the table to make a decision today. Today, we're focused on his arm getting back to 100% strength.”
Borucki hasn’t had that conversation with Toronto yet, though, and feels that he’s better suited pitching big innings as a starter, especially after an offseason that’s left him more confident in the strength of his lower body and shoulder.
He’s got a point, too, as someone who came up through the Minor Leagues with a reputation for having an advanced feel for pitching with one of the organization’s best changeups.
“As of right now, I’m a starter. I’ve always been a starter,” Borucki said. “I want to continue to be a starter. I feel like I’m better suited to start and go deep into games. I’m more of a [type to] ease into stuff and work through the game rather than coming out as hard as I can.”