TORONTO – The Blue Jays are soon planning to reduce their six-man rotation to five. Ross Stripling plans to make this decision more difficult.
It’s up to Stripling and Steven Matz for the fifth rotation spot, but the Blue Jays need all six in the next week as they grapple with the Red Sox on Saturday and the Angels on Tuesday. The musical chairs will play at some point, and a logical result would be for Stripling to switch to a bullpen role, where he had previously enjoyed great success.
Stripling did exceptionally well in Thursday’s 3-0 win over Cleveland at the Rogers Center, giving the Blue Jays six shutout innings. The 4.43 ERA next to Stripling’s name doesn’t tell the full story as the right-hander struggled early in the season before initiating an incredible turnaround in late May and early June. There were bumps in the road and other adjustments in July and August, but Stripling kept his rotation spot because he deserved it.
Thursday’s success was all about Stripling’s move, which forced Cleveland hitters to sniff eight times at 12 strokes. Stripling rarely blows away hitters and will be the first to tell you he’s not a classic strikeout pitcher, but he’s always been at his best in unbalancing opponents while meddling his full arsenal.
A rotation decision is inevitable, however, and in Stripling the Blue Jays have a versatile arm who posted a 3.10 ERA over 145 career innings as relief, most of it with the Dodgers.
The Blue Jays bullpen is much deeper now, having joined Adam Cimber and Brad Hand, and the appearance of Tim Mayza has given manager Charlie Montoyo another back-end arm that he trusts. Then there is the wild card from Nate Pearson, the highly competitive No. 1 prospect per MLB pipeline, who is working his way back as an emergency helper after an injury-ridden year in 2021, but Toronto has a sixth starter ready as Thomas Hatch (currently at Triple-A ) is the next man.
The rotation has been healthy with Hyun Jin Ryu, Robbie Ray and José Berríos, all models of consistency this season, but August and September will put this to the test. Regardless of whether Stripling or Matz pull out of the rotation, it is very likely that they will have to slide back in at some point.
While Stripling and the Bullpen did their thing in a clean all-round victory, Bo Bichette mastered the offensive all by himself. The All-Star Shortstop kicked off its 20th home run of the season, a two-run shot in the fourth and an occasional third run of the game on its next trip to the plate. With 76 RBIs in the season, Bichette is well on the way to cracking the 100 RBI benchmark as one of the best young offensive shortstops in baseball.
The Blue Jays are now 6-1 since their return to Toronto, with a run in the American League Wild Card race becoming easier to imagine day by day. The division will be a steeper climb, but beating AL East teams will help, and the Blue Jays will have a chance starting Friday when the Red Sox hit town. There are still areas of improvement and decisions to be made, like the upcoming rotation squeeze, but this is a good problem for a team looking to go from good to great.