Five Blue Jays Thoughts: The Opening Day starter, another catching emergency, and more

Photo credit:© Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Ethan Diamandas
1 month ago
The Blue Jays have endured a complicated few weeks.
On one hand, the overall dullness surrounding the team’s unspectacular offseason has been levied by the Joey Votto show – a homer here, a quip there – and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s epic spring showing (1.186 OPS).
Trouble is brewing, though: Alek Manoah is reaching Ben Simmons territory, and Kevin Gausman and Danny Jansen will presumably miss Opening Day.
I’ll be scribbling some words in a weekly column at Blue Jays Nation this season. Consider this my first entry. Here are my five thoughts on the Blue Jays on March 18 – and let’s hope the club isn’t wrestling the same demons come May 18.

Jays Need Votto As Much As He Needs Them

However you characterize this Blue Jays’ offseason, you can agree it needed a punch. So, enter Votto: a 40-year-old Torontonian well past his prime, sure, but with an all-time personality and a valuable left-handed cut.
At the moment, Votto’s a small gem for a fanbase that’s been waterboarded the last three Octobers and entered the following year with a little less twinkle in its eyes. He must be on the roster in 2024, even if it comes after a brief stint in Triple-A Buffalo, though I reckon he might not even need that.
Votto’s rolled ankle makes the situation touchier, but if the calculus is a healthy, ready-to-go Votto versus Dan Vogelbach, what are we doing? Keep JoVo in the clubhouse, at least as Chief Vibes Officer.

The Opening Day Starter Debate

With Kevin Gausman behind schedule, José Berríos is favoured to start Opening Day for the Jays on March 28 in Tampa Bay. That seems fair. The Puerto Rican has looked fantastic in Grapefruit League play, twirling a 1.38 ERA in four starts without allowing a homer.
An Opening Day start would also cautiously line Berríos up for the Jays’ home opener against the Mariners on April 8. The 29-year-old goofed his Opening Day opportunity in 2022 (0.1 IP, 4 ER), but he also soiled his entire ’22 season, so I wouldn’t read much into it.
Berríos is the guy. Lock it in and move on.

Another Catching Emergency

Danny Jansen, Ball Magnet.
It’s absurd how unlucky the Jays’ backstop is after suffering another broken bone in his hand. Maybe there’s a fix he can make at the plate to avoid injury, but I’m not so sure.
In the meantime, Toronto is in a pickle. Alejandro Kirk is fine for Opening Day, but the Jays need a quality two-catcher rotation until Jansen returns. No, current backup Brian Serven (.562 career OPS) won’t cut it. I’m also of the mind that catchers acclimate to foreign pitching staffs quicker than is made out to be.
The Jays would be wise to wait until clubs make their cuts for the 26-man roster, but adding a veteran, like a Francisco Meija or Tucker Barnhart (assuming they don’t crack their respective rosters), could go a long way.

What’s Up With Alek Manoah?

After a lost ’23 season, Manoah showed up to camp in excellent physical shape, but the demons returned.
The right-hander hit three batters and walked another in his spring debut on February 27, after which he was examined for right shoulder soreness. If the script sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Manoah’s entire 2023 featured shaky command and a mysterious injury, for which the club and player had different ideas for treatment.
I spoke to two mental performance coaches last summer who, based on my rundown of Manoah’s case, strongly suggested Manoah address his “yips” before even bothering to throw in a major-league game. That answer has stuck with me.
If Manoah still feels the yips or isn’t confident in his health or ability, he simply won’t help the Blue Jays in any capacity. And the road back is non-linear, so I’d consider Manoah out indefinitely.

The Rest Of The Rotation

Congrats, Bowden Francis, you’re the man. The 27-year-old was fantastic in relief last year, posting a 1.73 ERA in 36.1 innings as he made fans wonder about his potential as a starting pitcher. With After a solid four spring appearances (1.93 ERA) and with Manoah in the abyss, Big Bowden is a lock for a rotation role.
Gausman’s shoulder injury – if you can call it that – is a little worrying to me. Any time a pitcher deals with fatigue or “dead arm,” bad things can happen. If Gausman’s stuff has less sizzle, he may overthrow, for example.
Regardless, Gausman knows his body better than keyboard warriors like myself. Opening Day is off the table, and Mitch White or some other bullpen arms will handle Gausman’s start day while he catches up.


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