TORONTO – Marcus Stroman is returning to the Blue Jays and will make his first career major league start on Saturday against the Kansas City Royals.
The purpose, as laid out by manager John Gibbons, is two-fold.
"We want to get Stroman up here and give him a look," said Gibbons, identifying the first part of the equation. "Our thinking was we're going to back (Drew Hutchison) off a couple of days. (Mark) Buehrle will throw Sunday. Hutch will throw Tuesday in Detroit. The plan all along, coming in, was we were going to pick some spots and give Hutch a little breather."
Stroman's time was coming sooner rather than later, whether it was Saturday, late next week or sometime in June. This is as much about shielding Hutchison, the 23-year-old right-hander who occupies one of the top three spots in Toronto's starting rotation along with Buehrle and R.A. Dickey.
Hutchison, remember, underwent Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in July 2012. After a year-long recovery, he threw 26 2/3 innings in seven minor league starts late last year and followed that up with 21 2/3 innings in six starts in the Arizona Fall League.
Do the math: Hutchison entered this season having thrown 48 1/3 innings of competitive baseball in the better part of two years.
Already in 2014, in 11 starts for Toronto, Hutchison has thrown 65 innings.
"After his last start I thought he looked a little bit tired," said Gibbons. "I thought it was the perfect time to give him a couple of extra days."
To accommodate Stroman on the active roster, the Blue Jays designated reliever Bobby Korecky for assignment just one day after selecting his contract from the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. Korecky retired the final four Royals hitters in mop up duty on Friday night. The Jays fell to Kansas City 6-1.
With Stroman throwing Saturday, followed by Buehrle on Sunday, an off day on Monday, Hutchison on Tuesday, Dickey on Wednesday and J.A. Happ on Thursday, Gibbons could return to Buehrle for Friday night's game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
His other option is to go with a six-man rotation for the time being, something he considered earlier this season before Brandon Morrow's injury changed the plan, and continue to include Liam Hendriks in the mix.
"Doesn't mean anything right now," said Gibbons of Hendriks' status. "He's on schedule. He'll pitch sometime at the end of next week when he's scheduled."
A six-man rotation?
"No, we're not sure how it's all going to play out," said Gibbons.
Stroman made five appearances out of the bullpen in an earlier stint with the Blue Jays this season. The results were mixed but he thrived in high-leverage situations, including getting his first big league victory in a 6-5, 10-inning win over Philadelphia on May 5.
Groomed since the beginning of last season to be a starter, Stroman will bring his swagger to the mound on Saturday and his former Bisons teammate, catcher Erik Kratz, is looking forward to seeing it.
"He sees that his stuff plays when he's on and when his stuff is on there are very few who are as good as he is," said Kratz. "There's a reason he's a prospect or whatever it is or that he's being asked to come in and start in the rotation. I expect to see a guy that's going to come out and give everything he's got and have a lot of success."
Stroman was sent back to Buffalo after the Blue Jays wrapped up a series in Texas almost two weeks ago. He alluded to some confusion over not having been a starter in his first go round in Toronto. Stroman sports a 3.03 ERA and a 1.150 WHIP for Buffalo. Kratz thinks he'll be more comfortable with a defined role.
"I think it was hard for him to understand where he needed to be out in the bullpen," said Kratz. "Does he throw all of his pitches? Does he not throw all of his pitches? The way that he goes out in the game, he's a gamer, that's something that I think he learned from his first time, that his stuff plays. He just needs to keep going after guys."