ST. PETERSBURG -- Thomas Pannone's season might not have ended quite the way he wanted it to, but the 24-year-old can still take solace in the fact that he has put himself back into the conversation as a piece for the future of the Blue Jays' rotation.Pannone was charged with
ST. PETERSBURG -- Thomas Pannone's season might not have ended quite the way he wanted it to, but the 24-year-old can still take solace in the fact that he has put himself back into the conversation as a piece for the future of the Blue Jays' rotation.
Pannone was charged with five runs over 5 1/3 innings, but the Blue Jays offense had his back in a 7-6 victory over the Rays on Friday at Tropicana Field. It was the rookie left-hander's first rough outing since the end of August and snapped a streak of three starts with at least six innings and two or fewer runs. Randal Grichuk was responsible for letting Pannone off the hook with a pinch-hit three-run triple as Toronto overcame a three-run deficit.
The Blue Jays are expected to have an open competition for at least one starting job next spring. Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman and rookie Ryan Borucki likely are the only pitchers who will arrive in camp with guaranteed jobs. One addition should be expected through free agency, or trade, but the final spot might be up for grabs, and Pannone's performance this season should at least allow him to be part of the mix.
"I have a lot of confidence in what I just did, and it's good to bring that into the offseason," Pannone said of his last two months with the Blue Jays. "It's good to work off of that and get stronger, come into Spring Training ready to rock. I think everyone's goal in this room is to go into Spring Training and make a statement where you can make the team. I just want to show up prepared and ready to rock, and I think they know that I'm going to be."
This was the role the Blue Jays originally expected for Pannone when he was acquired as part of the deal for reliever Joe Smith at last year's non-waiver Trade Deadline. He was projected to be relatively close to making his Major League debut and was going to be one of the club's first lines of defense to protect against injuries. That changed when Pannone was hit with an 80-game suspension after he tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance, but he returned in late June and has been slowly climbing the depth chart ever since.
In his season finale, Pannone showed some of that promise, but he also showed why he is still not a sure thing. With a fastball that typically tops out around 88 mph, he does not have a lot of margin for error, and when he's not locating, it usually results in a lot of hard contact. Tampa Bay was all over him in a three-run first inning, which saw the first three batters reach base and included a triple from Mallex Smith, an RBI double from Joey Wendle and an RBI single by Willy Adames. Overall, Pannone allowed seven hits and three walks while throwing 59 of his 94 pitches for strikes.
"We were looking forward to this start tonight because he has been really good," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "The only time he has been hit was when he faced Baltimore at home and dominated them, and then a week later he faced them in Baltimore, and they hit him around pretty good. He faced Tampa not too long ago, and he's back here.
"So we were looking at that second time, that close together. He got off to a shaky start to begin with, his location was off, but then he settled in and gave us a chance to win, which is a good sign. That definitely showed me something. He's had a tremendous year, and he should be feeling pretty good."
Toronto trailed 4-1 entering the sixth but rallied for three runs in the top half of the frame and three more in the seventh to steal the victory. Rowdy Tellez and Teoscar Hernandez each homered while the recently called up Jon Berti chipped in with a two-run double and Grichuk provided the late-inning heroics.
"I'm just glad we're playing some pretty good baseball at the end," Gibbons said. "You never know here, we've had so many crazy games down here. They draw closer, it's a close ballgame, you never like that feeling, but you're waiting for something to happen because it happens all the time. But the guys came through tonight."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Put me in coach: Gibbons turned to his bench in the top of the seventh when Toronto loaded the bases with one out. Grichuk then came through with a pinch-hit triple to the corner in right field, which cleared the bases and gave the Blue Jays a 7-5 lead. Grichuk's timely hit came one game after he set a new personal high with 25 home runs, and he's now within eight RBIs of his career-high 68, which he had for the Cardinals in 2016.
Berti's big moment: Berti received some unexpected news earlier this week when he was promoted to the Majors after Devon Travis went down with a knee injury. The 28-year-old Berti hit a single in his Major League debut on Wednesday, and the second game of his career was even better. In the top of the sixth, Berti came through with an RBI double to left-center field, which tied the game at 4 and gave him the first RBIs of his career.
"It has been pretty surreal," Berti said. "It has been crazy, something unexpected. Getting the call on Tuesday around 4-5 o'clock in the afternoon and then starting in a big league game at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. It has been a wild few days, but some good memories so far."
Borucki (4-5, 3.76 ERA) will make his final start of the season when the Blue Jays visit the Rays on Saturday night with first pitch scheduled for 6:10 ET. The left-hander has allowed two or fewer runs while tossing at least six innings in 11 of his 16 starts this year. Borucki's 11 quality starts are tied with veteran right-hander Marco Estrada for the most on the Blue Jays' staff. Tampa Bay is set to counter with Cy Young candidate Blake Snell (21-5, 1.90).
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.