Let’s face it — the three goals for the Blue Jays as far as the pitching staff goes between now and the July 31 trade deadline without waivers are clear.
One, to conserve innings on the valuable right arm of Aaron Sanchez, so that instead of shutting him down in September he still has bullets left in the holster.
Two, obtain some help, at least temporarily, for the back end of the bullpen, then try to make a trade at the deadline, choosing some available relief help to be a contender down the stretch.
And three, straighten out Marcus Stroman without disrupting the team’s ability to notch victories.
A quick study of the 33 games remaining on the Jays schedule between Tuesday against the Diamondbacks — a game started by ace Marco Estrada — and the July 31 game against the Orioles shows those three things can be done. Via judicious use of four off-days, plus the four days of the all-star break July 11-14, and with, maybe, a quick re-appearance for two home games by Drew Hutchison.
Eight starts: June 21-27; July 2-7-15-20-25-30.
There is no doubt the 32-year-old Estrada has come into his own as a starter at the top of the Jays’ rotation. As such, the suggestion for a solid workload is that he would pitch on his sixth day just once and then, surrounding the all-star break, would have eight days between starts.
Estrada is the most likely of the Jays pitchers to be invited to join the AL pitching staff on Tuesday July 12 in San Diego. His last start before the break would be July 7 versus the Tigers at home, making it an easy call for him to log an inning. If he is so honoured, he’ll still be ready for a Friday start in Oakland.
Seven starts: June 22-28; July 3-8-16-22-27.
Happ would be asked to pitch on his sixth day just twice, between the D’backs at home and a date against the Rockies at Coors Field, then separating two starts in mid-July vs. the A’s in Oakland and against his former team, the Mariners, at home. He also would have a full week’s rest surrounding the all-star break, between a Tigers start at home and the A’s on the road.
Six starts: June 24-29; July 4-9-19-24.
The key to Dickey is his ability to take the ball and give you 100-plus pitches. But how deep into a game that takes you is another question. The knuckleball specialist has been improving month-by-month as he did last year and has done so throughout his career as the weather heats up.
To fit the revamped rotation into this schedule, Dickey would have to jump ahead of Sanchez in the announced rotation on the weekend in Chicago, which fits nicely into the goal of conserving innings for Sanchez. It gives Dickey the none-too-pleasant task of pitching in Coors Field, but also allows a spacious Oakland Coliseum. He would miss the O’s at the end of the month at home.
Five starts: June 25-30; July 6-26-31.
After being bumped back by Dickey on Friday, Sanchez could make three more starts after that, including the White Sox, against the Indians and finally the Royals at home, leading into the all-star break. With off-days and the break, Sanchez could have 19 days between starts and, during that time with nobody on short rest, he could temporarily return to a valuable eighth-inning role, allowing GM Ross Atkins to explore bullpen options via trade for most of July before the talented 24-year-old Sanchez is returned to the rotation for the final six days of July, against the Padres and O’s, both at home.
Five starts: June 26; July 1-17-23-29.
There was a heavy load placed on Stroman’s shoulders when he was anointed the opening day starter after just 24 major-league starts, he returned early from what was supposed to be season-ending knee surgery in 2015 in dramatic fashion. He welcomed the challenge, but now it’s looking as if he could use a short break away from the MLB spotlight to re-discover his movement and sinker.
Stroman could be asked to start on the weekend in Chicago, then on Canada Day against the Indians. If he still struggles, as he has done for much of the past two months, then he could be optioned to Buffalo for a start July 6 and then one in Dunedin, or both in the Florida State League, returning to the rotation ready to rumble after the major-league all-star break, beginning with a start in Oakland.
Two starts: July 5-10.
Back in the month of May, manager John Gibbons spoke of using Hutchison in late June as a buffer, maybe allowing some rest to Sanchez and saving some of Aaron’s bullets for later. But that can already be done without using Hutchison and his ability to pitch well at the Rogers Centre. Instead, the still-young, chomping-at-the-bit 25-year-old could fill in for two Stroman starts, against the Royals and against the Tigers on the final Sunday before the break. Of course, if Stroman is able to get his groove back in the next 10 days, that move would not have to be made.
And hey, Blue Jays? You’re welcome.
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