Blue Jays execute bullpen plan to beat Sox

Thornton, Milone, Phelps do some heavy lifting on the mound in series finale

April 22nd, 2021

This Blue Jays’ pitching staff will welcome Thursday’s off-day with open arms, but Wednesday’s win over the Red Sox offered up a look at what a bullpen can look like when it’s done right.

Bouncing between drastically different pitching styles early, Toronto opened with throwing from the right side with dozens of moving pieces in his max-effort delivery, before flipping to veteran lefty , who’s been hypnotizing hitters with a changeup that takes its time reaching home plate. The highest leverage outs in the Blue Jays’ 6-3 win at Fenway Park came in the fifth, though, when manager Charlie Montoyo turned to .

“You’ve got to use different [styles],” Montoyo said. “When you face a lineup like the Red Sox, which is really good, you don’t want to give them the same look every time, because they’re going to get you. That’s what we did tonight. The pitchers deserve a lot of credit.”

Phelps entered with two runners on and one out. After allowing an RBI double, he danced out of a bases-loaded jam by retiring Xander Bogaerts to end the inning. Ryan Borucki then locked town two key, scoreless innings of his own, coming up with a big pitch to escape the seventh. Bullpen roles have already grown more fluid, but that’s especially true in a game like Wednesday’s series finale, where the Blue Jays had to chart out the puzzle pieces every step of the way without a traditional starter.

“We’re giving them everything we’ve got on bullpen days,” Thornton said after pitching two scoreless innings. “You’re getting a bunch of different looks. We’re in a good spot right now, throwing a lot of strikes and commanding out pitches. We’re doing what needs to be done.”

The club’s pitching depth has been rocked by injuries, while others, like Tanner Roark, haven’t been able to stabilize those back-end spots. Hyun Jin Ryu, Steven Matz and Robbie Ray make up the “traditional” part of the Blue Jays’ rotation, but until some of their injured arms start coming back in the other direction, they’ll need more nights like Wednesday as they try to weather the storm.

Getting some help from the Red Sox staff didn’t hurt either, of course. Starter Garrett Richards walked six and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. extended his on-base streak to 19 games with a pair of hits and two walks, which the Blue Jays hope will spread to the rest of their lineup soon.

Looking ahead to Toronto's pitching options, this is the full picture:

Help is on the way

No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson is throwing again on Thursday in Dunedin, Fla., as he builds back up from a groin injury sustained in Spring Training. He’s still a couple of weeks away, most likely, but Pearson is one of baseball’s most talented young right-handers and should inject some much-needed upside to this rotation.

Beyond Pearson, right-hander Thomas Hatch is beginning to throw as he rehabs from a right elbow impingement, and while his road back should be longer, he’s more than capable of factoring into this rotation. Ross Stripling (right forearm flexor strain) recently hit the injured list, along with T.J. Zeuch (right shoulder tendinitis), both of whom should be able to handle bulk innings when they’re back.

Roster options

This 26-man roster has starters in non-starter roles if the Blue Jays choose to take a more traditional route. Roark was relegated to the bullpen, but Thornton could be stretched out further than these two innings and Anthony Kay is there, fully capable of making a traditional start. Milone and Joel Payamps can also carry bulk innings, but at some point, this staff would work much more simply with traditional starters.

Top prospects

In 2019, Blue Jays fans wanted Guerrero and Bo Bichette. In 2020, they wanted Pearson. This year? It’s Alek Manoah.

Manoah, ranked as the club’s No. 7 prospect by MLB Pipeline, dominated in Spring Training, looking far more advanced than most expected, but this is Manoah’s first full season as a pro after being selected in the 2019 MLB Draft and missing the Minor League season in ‘20. He’s talented, but still needs to check off a few more boxes on that traditional development path. The same goes for No. 4 prospect Simeon Woods Richardson, who could make a push in late ‘21, but it’s unlikely that a prospect jumps to the Major Leagues to save this rotation if the Blue Jays are making a serious postseason run.