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Jays starting pitchers ‘disappointed’ with early results


TORONTO — The bats have been under the microscope since last summer, but the reason the Toronto Blue Jays are hovering around the .500 mark to start the season isn’t just an impotent offence.

The strength of this team simply hasn’t been the strength.

“I’ll be honest with you — I’ve been pretty disappointed in our starters so far,” veteran starter Chris Bassitt said after a strong start Tuesday night against the Seattle Mariners. “This is my third start and two of my starts were terrible, too, in my opinion, so I’m no help to the problem. The biggest thing for us is getting our starters going. I’m so confident in the guys we have, but the first 10, 11 games have been pretty rough outside of [Jose] Berrios.”

The numbers support that opinion.

Last year, the Jays’ rotation was third in baseball with a 3.85 ERA, as all four of Kevin Gausman, Berrios, Bassitt and Yusei Kikuchi made 30-plus starts, a rarity in today’s game.

It’s amazing to think it could have been even better had 2022 Alek Manoah showed up.

Heading into Wednesday’s series finale with the M’s, this year’s rotation ERA sat at 5.09, 24th in baseball, and that’s after two strong starts from Berrios and Bassitt, which shaved nearly a full run off a number that had them 28th in baseball coming into the series.

Things seem to be starting to turn, and all eyes will be on Gausman’s start Friday against the Colorado Rockies.

No pitcher is more important to this team and an ace-like outing now that he’s close to fully built up would answer a lot of questions after his velocity was down in his last outing.

“It was the first cold start of the year and couldn’t get my body going for whatever reason,” said Gausman, who’s carrying an uncharacteristic 9.53 ERA through two starts and watched his fastball velocity drop more than three full ticks last Saturday in New York.

“Obviously, that’s no excuse, I’ve had plenty of games where I haven’t been able to feel my body and pitched fine. Obviously, the pitch count had a lot to do with why I came out as I’m still kind of building up. Just flush it.”

Berrios, with three straight quality starts to begin the year and a pristine 1.45 ERA, has been the anchor thus far.

“He’s been exactly what we really saw from day one of spring training,” Gausman said. “He came in, and there were a lot of guys who looked really good early on, but he looked exceptional from the first ‘pen to his last outing of the spring and he’s really kind of carried that into the season.

“Honestly, I feel like he’s one of the most underrated aces in baseball because it’s kind of just what people expect out of him.”

While the fan base is carrying extremely low expectations for the run production, one of the best rotations in baseball has been flying under the radar.

But it’s the absolute key to this club’s hopes and any sort of regression, whether it’s simply performance or health-induced, would leave the Jays in a very precarious situation when it comes to piling up enough wins to earn a third straight wild-card berth.

“We’ve all just been kind of scuffling as a group, but that’s our strength and we know that’s our strength and we’re just getting back to who we are,” Bassitt said.

Gausman agreed.

“Like you said, it’s been frustrating for, really, everybody but Berrios,” Gausman said. “Kikuchi pitched great in New York, so it was nice to see him pitch that well, but for the rest of us we’ve just kind of gotta get it going, get some rhythm going.
“We know how good we were last year, but we know we can be even better. We definitely know that to be good we have to pitch good, and you can’t just be good in one facet of the game anymore. It’s not a thing.”

Kikuchi kept the ball rolling Wednesday and Gausman will hope to continue that Friday, but the fifth turn in the rotation might be up for debate next week following Bowden Francis’ start on Saturday.

While the soon-to-be 28-year-old rookie has pitched better than his 12.96 ERA would suggest, showing swing-and-miss stuff with his curveball, the hope is options are on the horizon.

It’s no coincidence that Manoah’s rehab outing at Triple-A Buffalo for the same day, and the former Cy Young finalist’s start will be under a microscope.

His 94-mph heater in his last start suggests he’s past the shoulder issue that kept him sidelined during spring training, and that’s a great sign.

The command, however, is a different story.

Combining his lone spring training outing and his ugly Single-A tune-up on the weekend, Manoah has walked five batters, hit four more, and allowed 10 earned runs across just 3.1 innings.

The takeaway from Manoah’s Triple-A start will be all about the strike throwing, and the expectation, no matter how the first one goes, is that the 26-year-old right-hander will need multiple outings to prove to Jays brass that he’s ready to return to the big leagues.

Last year, he was rushed back up after his June demotion and lessons were learned.

At this point, Manoah is this rotation’s lottery ticket, and the club is hoping one of him, Ricky Tiedemann or Yariel Rodriguez can help out in the not-so-distant future.