GM Atkins shares plans for pitching, Springer

Blue Jays general manager also gives injury updates on Borucki, Merryweather

June 20th, 2021

The Blue Jays have clear, obvious needs. Their bullpen is lacking and the rotation needs another high-end arm to compete deep into October, but there could be some overlap, with the club open to creative solutions.

Toronto’s bullpen is at the forefront of everyone's mind, of course. That group has cost the club several wins over the past week, all within the division and all heartbreakers. Injuries are a major part of that, but if the Blue Jays expect to make a run, they need answers soon.

“The opportunity to add to our bullpen and complement our bullpen is what we’re focused on right now,” said general manager Ross Atkins. “We’ll continue working on that. As it relates to urgency, we were thinking of that and working on it when our bullpen was pitching better. We’re constantly thinking about how we can make this organization better, and will continue to do that.”

This gets more interesting when you consider the Blue Jays’ young pitching depth, which looked like a strength entering the season before injuries hit. No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson missed the start of the year with a groin injury and has just recently started to recapture his form with Triple-A Buffalo, while a right elbow injury delayed Thomas Hatch’s debut.

Through May and June, we’ve heard from manager Charlie Montoyo that these young arms would stay stretched out as starters. The context of the season -- and the urgency that comes along with it -- matter, though, and that tone has changed.

“We have to consider all of those guys as alternatives now, especially with our rotation stabilizing a bit, but we can’t lose sight of the impact of a Major League starting pitcher,” Atkins said. “That’s a balance, but nothing is off the table as we factor in those guys as potential relief options. We have to be open-minded and creative in terms of how we can do a better job.”

Strategically, this could work. The Blue Jays are thin on reliable bullpen arms, and if Montoyo is forced to roll out four relievers each night, there’s a good chance one will falter. If he can cut that number down by, let’s say, using a young starter for three innings, then there are fewer variables at play. Everything is on the table.

“Absolutely. Especially with Hatch having done such a good job last year,” Atkins said. “We have to be open to that. That is on the table, something that we’re talking about, but each individual is different and we’ll consider all of our alternatives.”

Decision coming on Springer
George Springer (right quad strain) was removed from Saturday’s Triple-A rehab game early due to weather conditions, but he’ll be back in the lineup Sunday and playing center field. This could, finally, represent the final step of his rehab process.

“We are, very fortunately, at the point now where we have a decision to make with him,” Atkins said. “Do we continue that rehab progression or do we have him join the team?”

Borucki, Merryweather progressing
Part of the solution in the bullpen is getting Julian Merryweather (left oblique strain) and Ryan Borucki (left forearm flexor strain) back healthy. Merryweather, especially, was brilliant in limited work in early April and he looked to be claiming the closer’s job before going down.

Atkins said that Borucki is currently throwing off a mound and he's about to progress to facing live hitters, while Merryweather is just behind, scheduled to throw off a mound this week. Atkins suggested a timeline of Borucki returning close to the end of this month and Merryweather following him soon after.

Prospect Smith pushing for opportunity
Keep the name Kevin Smith in mind. The Blue Jays’ No. 28 prospect is off to an incredible start for the Triple-A Bisons, hitting .287 with nine home runs and a .985 OPS, while playing primarily at shortstop. Smith also has experience at third base.

“His plate discipline and using the whole field -- everything we’re seeing in his approach is exceptionally encouraging,” Atkins said. “He’s a very versatile player, as well. He could be an incredible complement for us this year. He’s not on our 40-man [roster] right now, but we’re talking about how he could potentially help us and fit.”