Saturday was a day of mixed emotions for the Toronto Blue Jays. On one side, Marcus Stroman was being activated from the disabled list and would pitch five shutout innings, scattering six hits and one walk while striking out five Anaheim Angels batters. He threw 51 of his 81 pitches for strikes, and induced 12 ground balls against only two fly balls. It was a successful outing that saw Stroman lower his inflated 7.71 ERA to 6.80. While that number is still high, it is worth noting that Stroman owns a 4.24 FIP and a 3.78 xFIP. Should he continue to pitch the same way he has been, we will see his ERA shrink towards FIP/xFIP.
Besides Stroman returning, the Jays also received a timely three-run home run in the ninth inning from Steve Pearce which would lift the team to a 4-1 victory, giving the team a chance to split the series Sunday afternoon. Kevin Pillar and Teoscar Hernandez each recorded an outfield assist, with the former throwing a one-hop bullet to the plate, with the bases loaded, where Russell Martin applied a great tag to nab David Fletcher for the third out of the inning.
Off the field, the team dealt with more injury frustrations. Starting pitchers Aaron Sanchez and Jaime Garcia were both placed on the 10-day disabled list. Sanchez hits the shelf with a right finger contusion from jamming his finger. He noted that it was hard to grip the baseball as he only lasted one inning in Friday night’s game. The team is stressing that this is not a blister related injury, especially after the young pitcher missed nearly the whole 2017 season dealing with a blister issue. Sanchez had been pitching well prior to this finger issue. He had gone at least six innings in three straight starts while giving up no more than three runs in any of those games. His issue this season has been walks. He is averaging five free passes per nine innings, leading to a 4.89 xFIP. He had been going in the right direction, and the team will hope that he can keep that form when he returns. Garcia is being sidelined with his second bought of left shoulder inflammation this season. Garcia has struggled recently, lasting only three innings against the Atlanta Braves while giving up five runs and a pair of home runs in his last start.
The good news is that the team needs to fill only one spot in their rotation thanks to the return of Marcus Stroman. Should Sanchez or Garcia be out long-term, the team could face further issues if one of both of J.A. Happ or Marco Estrada are traded. Happ has been the center of trade talks as he could be the best pitcher available on the market at this time. Nonetheless, the immediate concern is filling the empty rotation spot. Sam Gaviglio will start on Sunday, his seventh of the season. He has shown signs of being a serviceable back-end starter, but has also looked atrocious at times. Gaviglio has worked past the fifth inning in four of his six starts, but has not lasted past the fourth in either of his two most recent appearances. He still boasts a 3.82 xFIP, close to his 3.75 ERA, showing that he has performed reasonably well overall. He seems likely to stay in the rotation until both Sanchez and Garcia return barring a string of poor starts.
The other spot is up in the air. It seems likely that Joe Biagini will get another shot at the rotation, to the dismay of many Jays fans. Biagini has been awful this season, but has at least had the experience of starting a Major League game. As a starter this season, Biagini has pitched to a 7.71 ERA, given up nine walks against thirteen strikeouts, and yielded a .905 OPS to opposing batters. His numbers in the bullpen has actually been worse, but beggars can’t be choosers as we have found out watching this team so far in 2018. He hasn’t started since May 20th, making it even more difficult to warrant the spot start. Having not appeared in a game since the 21st, Biagini would be on five days of rest when Garcia’s spot in the rotation comes around on the 26th.
The other candidate who I would like to see on the big stage is Sean Reid-Foley. The 49th overall pick by the Blue Jays in the 2014 Amateur Draft started his season in the Eastern League with the powerhouse AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats. He started eight games there and pitched to a 2.03 ERA and 3.38 xFIP before being promoted to the AAA Buffalo Bisons of the International League. In six starts so far with the Bisons, Reid-Foley has a 5.46 ERA. While this number is high, it does not reflect his overall performance as he owns a 3.25 xFIP. He is striking out more than ten batters per nine innings, and has been the victim of a .374 BABIP so far in AAA. If the Blue Jays want to truly evaluate his performance, what better time to do so than with a start against the World Champion Houston Astros on Tuesday. Reid-Foley last started a game on June 21st, making Tuesday’s game a perfect five days since that start. It makes sense for the Blue Jays to call him up on normal rest to see what his stuff is capable of against the best team in baseball.
The verdict: Why start Biagini when he has not shown any promise of success? Because they are insane, and insane people do insane things. Give Sean Reid-Foley a shot. He’s going to be with the team in 2019, so call him up and see what he can do.
Stats from FanGraphs.