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Latos likely to stay in rotation over Lawrence

Veteran starter outperforms rookie in twin-bill starts
MLB.com @gregorMLB

ST. LOUIS -- The Blue Jays have an important roster decision to make this week, but the choice became pretty clear during Thursday's doubleheader against the Cardinals.

Right-hander Aaron Sanchez is tentatively scheduled to return to the starting rotation on Sunday vs. the Rays. Lefty J.A. Happ, however, is still not ready to get back on the mound, which means one spot remains up for grabs between Mat Latos and Casey Lawrence. The decision might have been murky a couple of days ago but not anymore.

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ST. LOUIS -- The Blue Jays have an important roster decision to make this week, but the choice became pretty clear during Thursday's doubleheader against the Cardinals.

Right-hander Aaron Sanchez is tentatively scheduled to return to the starting rotation on Sunday vs. the Rays. Lefty J.A. Happ, however, is still not ready to get back on the mound, which means one spot remains up for grabs between Mat Latos and Casey Lawrence. The decision might have been murky a couple of days ago but not anymore.

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Latos was solid for the Blue Jays in Game 1 of Thursday's twin bill with six scoreless frames. Lawrence, in the nightcap, was not.

With a depleted Blue Jays bullpen after the Cardinals rallied for an 8-4 win in 11 innings, Lawrence struggled early and often, and the 29-year-old rookie had no choice but to wear it for much of the game.

"Disappointing," said a dejected Lawrence, who was charged with six runs on 10 hits and three walks over five innings of a 6-4 loss. "Just didn't make pitches and paid for it pretty much throughout the night. Not a good one."

Beyond Thursday's performances, there are a couple other reasons why Latos is the logical choice to stick around. Lawrence has options remaining on his contract, so he can be sent to the Minors without clearing waivers. Latos cannot, and he also has opt-out clauses in his deal that would allow him to depart for another organization if he's not on the 25-man roster.

That likely will only incentivize Toronto's desire to keep him with the big league team, especially following Thursday's quality start. In that outing, Latos allowed just three hits while striking out four. If there was one area to nitpick, it was his four walks, and after the game he wasn't happy about that but felt things were moving in the right direction.

"Still walked too many guys, it's aggravating, but filled the strike zone up pretty good," said Latos, who threw 47 of his 82 pitches for strikes. "Mixed pitches really well, was able to have some good defense behind me, and the offense put runs on the board. Other than the fact of not getting a W, we've just got to keep fighting."

How long Latos sticks around remains to be seen. Happ is not ready to return because of inflammation in his left elbow. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said there had not been a setback but the original projection that Happ would only miss one start clearly was overly optimistic. He has been out since April 16, and according to Gibbons, Happ is "just not ready to crank it up yet."

Even when Happ does return, the Blue Jays could find a creative way to keep Latos around. He's a candidate to eventually join the bullpen, but right now his focus is on starting until somebody forces him out of the rotation.

"I was throwing the ball down in the zone and hitting my spots more than my last outing," said Latos, who has allowed four runs over 11 innings as a starter this season. "Last outing, I've done it a time or two, but you still get nervous, you still get that anxiety when you compete and whatnot, so being more comfortable and making more pitches."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Mat Latos, Casey Lawrence