Hard stretching highlights Jays’ rotational challenges

TORONTO — A recent streak of poor form and an inability to make the necessary adjustments have seemingly left Toronto Blue Jays starting spot Yusei Kikuchi on thin ice.

With eight home games against American League East rivals Boston and Tampa Bay compressed across seven days this week, the timing of Kikuchi’s struggles is far from ideal for manager Charlie Montoyo.

The Red Sox, Blue Jays and Rays were all within a game overall — No. 1 through No. 3 in the AL wildcard positions with division leader New York well ahead — and entered Tuesday’s game.

“It’s a tough division and they feel like playoff games every game because they’re good teams – including us,” Montoyo said.

Kikuchi worked just two innings in a 5-4 loss in Milwaukee last Saturday. The left-hander has not survived past the fifth inning in any of his five starts this month.

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Additionally, uneven performances from Jose Berrios – who has given up 14 earned runs in his last two starts – haven’t helped the Blue Jays.

Montoyo said that the position of the pitch is currently one of the main differences between the slingshots.

“One throws strikes and the other doesn’t,” Montoyo said in a media availability ahead of the series’ Boston opener at Rogers Center. “Berrios threw strikes, he just got hit.”

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With an arm-wrecking doubleheader against Tampa Bay on Saturday, Montoyo needs his starters to get deep into games this week to bring some relief to his overhauled bullpen.

Kevin Gausman did a solid service to his skipper and the club on Monday by throwing 110 pitches – a season high for the team – over seven shutout innings in a 7-2 win over the Red Sox.

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Ross Stripling, who has converted well from long relief to a rotation spot following Hyun Jin Ryu’s season-ending injury, was due to start at the Rogers Center on Tuesday night. Staff ace Alek Manoah was nominated for the series finale on Wednesday.

After that, the rotation schedule for a rare five-game streak with the Rays could get interesting. The Twin Bill was needed to record a game originally scheduled for April 4th.

“We have to add another starter this week just to cover that, and these (are not) seven-inning doubleheaders,” Montoyo said. “So that’s another part of the equation.”

Major League Baseball returned to nine-inning doubleheader games this year after being cut in 2020-21. Thomas Hatch could be in line to get a call from Triple-A Buffalo, but Montoyo said potential plans have yet to be finalized.

Sometimes a struggling pitcher will skip a start to try a restart, but Montoyo can’t really afford that option this week given the schedule. He said it’s still Kikuchi’s turn to make his regular lap in the rotation, although it’s not set in stone.

When asked about a possible move to the bullpen, Montoyo said there had been no talks on that front.

“We didn’t go there,” he said.

Kikuchi, who signed a three-year, $36 million deal with the Blue Jays during the offseason, is 2-4 with a 5.08 earned run average. He has exhibited 35 walks over 14 starts. A mid-’90s fastball is one of the southpaw’s main weapons, but he’s shied away from it lately, and batsmen are sitting on his other courts.

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Berrios, meanwhile, is 5-4 with a 5.86 ERA and 20 walks over 15 starts. He is expected to be a rotational anchor for the present and the future, having signed a seven-year, $131 million extension last fall.

Montoyo said Berrios has managed to regain his consistency in the past when fights have crept in.

“He has a track record of doing it and being really good,” he said. “That’s number 1 for sure. So it’s going to be easier for Berrios to make the adjustment than Kikuchi because he’s done it before.”

Markham, Ontario, seamer Jordan Romano served well in the ninth-inning role for a bullpen who had his share of injuries.

Primary setup man Tim Mayza recently returned after missing almost a month with a forearm infection. Yimi Garcia (back) and Julian Merryweather (abdominal) are two notable rescuers currently on the injured list.

With the Blue Jays in win-now mode, the pitching concerns are increasing the pressure on general manager Ross Atkins to ramp up staffing ahead of the Aug. 2 trading close.

The club’s halfway point in the regular season comes Monday in Oakland with the kick-off of a seven-game road trip.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 28, 2022.

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Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

© 2022 The Canadian Press

https://globalnews.ca/news/8953924/tough-stretch-highlights-jays-rotation-challenges/ Hard stretching highlights Jays’ rotational challenges

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