Rotation woes wearing down Blue Jays' relief corps

 Right-hander Marco Estrada tossed six shutout innings on Sunday, but that was only the third time in seven starts that he has pitched at least six innings this season. Photo Credit: Amanda Fewer

Right-hander Marco Estrada tossed six shutout innings on Sunday, but that was only the third time in seven starts that he has pitched at least six innings this season. Photo Credit: Amanda Fewer

By Cole Shelton

Canadian Baseball Network

The Toronto Blue Jays got off to a hot start to the season, but have since cooled down.

Through May 6, they are 19-16 and third in the American League East.

One of the club's biggest concerns has to be the struggles of its starting rotation. Many fans thought during spring training that the rotation would be a strength, but that has not been the case. It has been the offence and the bullpen that have propelled the Blue Jays to a winning record.

But with the starters struggling, it causes a concern for the bullpen. Toronto’s rotation consists of Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada, Marcus Stroman and Jamie Garcia, only one of them — Happ — has an ERA below 4.00 (3.67), while Stroman’s is 7.52, Garcia is at 6.60 and Estrada’s is 5.21. Not exactly the recipe for success for starting pitchers.

While the starters are allowing a lot of runs, perhaps a greater concern is that they are not pitching deep into ball games. None of Toronto’s starters are averaging more than six innings an outing, which is what manager John Gibbons expects out of the rotation.

"We need at least six innings from these guys, and sometimes into the seventh," manager John Gibbons said to Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith. "We haven’t been getting that lately. There have been some good outings, but it’s been very inconsistent.”

To be successful, major league teams need starting pitchers to win games on a regular basis, something that is not happening in Toronto. The longer this stretch goes of the starters struggling to get out of the fourth or fifth inning, the more concern the Jays will have with their rotation and their bullpen.

With the Blue Jays not getting innings out of their rotation, it has already taxed their bullpen. The Blue Jays' relief corps has pitched over 118 innings, which has resulted in a lot of roster shuffling to ensure they have fresh arms in the pen. The Jays have sent Danny Barnes — who was pitching well — down to triple-A because he has options, called up Luis Santos and Jake Petricka for a game, as well as Carlos Ramirez, who was up for a short period of time. While Tim Mayza has been consistently on the Toronto to Buffalo shuttle.

Why this is a concern is simple. The Blue Jays do not have a whole lot of depth in the bullpen, and also have a lot of older relievers. The veterans — John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.), Seung Hwan Oh, and Tyler Clippard — can’t pitch every game or every second game like they once could. They need more time off, but they can’t it because the starters are not working deep into the ball game.

Now, with those relievers pitching a lot early, it may cause an injury or for them to struggle a bit in the middle of the season. Because of that Gibbons needs the starters to start going deep in the ballgames, or the Toronto-Buffalo shuttle will remain open and run often with relievers constantly going up and down.

The struggles haven’t had too much of an impact yet, but it is still early and if the rotation can’t turn it around soon, it may be a long season for the bullpen and possibly the Blue Jays.