Both young pitchers have been alternating between strong and disastrous starts over the past few weeks, but there’s not a lot the Toronto Blue Jays can do about this. There simply isn’t enough pitching depth on the team to afford the two young guns any rest.
This is a real shame, because things were supposed to work out differently this season and last season, too. The Jays took a huge gamble in the 2013 off-season, hoping a quickly assembled rotation of veteran starters would return them to the Promised Land. Enter the likes of R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, who were joined by veteran pitchers Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ already on the team.
These guys were supposed to get the job done and finally put an end to the endless questions about the Jays’ starting rotation. It was a quick fix and on paper, it looked a strong lineup, but things rarely work out according to plan.
We never really got to see Johnson’s stuff – his brief stint in Toronto was defined by injury, which can also be said about Morrow’s entire career in Toronto. Dickey has been good, but he’s far from the Cy Young-winning form that originally attracted the Jays’ interest, while Buehrle has been reliable (until recently anyway) and Happ has been serviceable.
It’s this general malaise that opened room for Hutchison and Stroman to join the starting rotation this season, and things looked very promising at the start for both young pitchers.
Hutchison began the season as a bona fide road warrior, going 4-2 in his first 10 road games. He struggled at home and there was some talk of only using him on the road, but he put up good numbers for a middle to end guy in the starting rotation. Today, he’s 8-10 in 24 starts, carrying an ERA of 4.60.
For his part, Stroman absolutely dazzled everyone in his debut as a starter, winning three of his five first career starts at the MLB level. Across 14 starts to date, he boosts a record of 6-4. His ERA of 3.12 as a starter leads the entire team. That’s not bad for a rookie, right?
What these general numbers disguise, however, is the fact both pitchers have been showing signs of fatigue in the past few weeks. Hutchison has allowed 25 earned runs over 32 innings of work in his last six starts. He dominated the Baltimore Orioles over 8.2 innings for the win last week, but this impressive performance is sandwiched between a pair of forgettable outings versus the Houston Astros and the Seattle Mariners.
If you look at the overall numbers in his last 10 starts, the Baltimore game stands out as the exception, not the rule. The real pattern points to diminishing returns for Hutchison, who’s playing in his first season following successful Tommy Gun surgery. It might be time to give him some rest, assuming any can be found.
Stroman’s recent struggles, on the other hand, are less pronounced. Like Hutchison, he put up a brilliant performance last week – one against the Detroit Tigers – but this win finds itself flanked by two disastrous starts. At the start of August, Stroman wasn’t able to pitch beyond three innings in Houston, getting hammered for seven runs (five earned) by the lowly Astros. This pales in comparison to his performance last night in Chicago, however, where he allowed five earned runs in just 0.2 innings of work.
It’s still not clear what direction Stroman’s recent numbers are pointing towards, but the team should treat him with some caution. If he continues to struggle as a starter down the stretch, it might make sense to give him some rest, too.
The problem, of course, will be finding some rest for both pitchers. Until Morrow returns from injury, the Jays will remain short one veteran pitcher. Dustin McGowan can start games, but this would take him out of the bullpen. He also showed signs of fatigue himself after beginning the season as a starter. In other words, he’s not an ideal candidate to replace either Hutchison or Stroman long-term.
Other bullpen options include Brett Cecil and Casey Janssen, but this would wreak havoc on the bullpen’s current structure and it’s not clear these guys would perform any better as starters. They certainly haven’t started any games in quite some time.
There is one last option in the bullpen – Aaron Sanchez, who’s expected to form a big part of the Jays’ starting rotation in the future – but his promotion to the starting rotation now would really amount to passing the same problem along to another young pitcher. If Hutchison and Stroman are showing signs of fatigue, Sanchez will likely show some signs of fatigue himself at some point. Add to this the fact all three young pitchers may have innings limits in place and it becomes hard to know how much, if any, additional workload they’re each able to assume.
As we all know, Toronto could’ve avoided this situation if they signed veteran starter Ervin Santana before the start of the season or made a play for someone at the trade deadline, but the Jays were inactive on both fronts and this relates to another problem afflicting the team: a general disinterest from management and ownership when it comes to building and sustaining a competitive baseball team.
This leaves the Jays with a problem entirely of their own creation, but one literally borne on the shoulders of Hutchison and Stroman right now.
The team can’t afford to carry this weight so let’s hope Hutchison and Stroman remain up to the task.