NewsCO.com.au – Joe Biagini making his case for spot in Jays rotation

September 17, 2017

 Joe Biagini should have three more starts this season to prove to the Jays that he should be added to the rotation next year.
Joe Biagini should have three more starts this season to prove to the Jays that he should be added to the rotation next year.  (Rick Madonik / Toronto Star) | Order this photo  

MINNEAPOLIS—The end of Joe Biagini’s apprenticeship with the Blue Jays’ rotation is near and as decision time bears down, the looming question remains: can the 27-year-old make it as a big-league starter?

Biagini — who has made clear his desire to become one of Toronto’s five main arms on a permanent basis — has two weeks left to help solidify that answer for the organization. If the team continue to cycle through its rotation as it has over the course of this last month, the right hander will be afforded three more starts before the season wraps up in New York at the beginning of October. The only obvious way that might change would be if Brett Anderson is forced to miss time thanks to a blister he developed in this past Thursday’s outing; the lefty played catch on Saturday and said he was monitoring the hot spot, which remains a day-to-day issue.

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Manager John Gibbons expects the few upcoming times he and the Blue Jays’ front office see Biagini in action will help them make a decision about what his role will be next year.

“He’s got the stuff to do it,” Gibbons said on Saturday, the day before Biagini was expected to make one of his remaining starts here, in the finale of a four-game series against the Minnesota Twins.

The dilemma, the manager said, is that Biagini has already proven he can be an asset in the bullpen, a long arm who the club can turn to for multiple late innings. The pitcher is battling his own stellar reputation as he tries to make a case for a new part.

“You’ve got to kind of weigh that … you leave a gaping hole down there if you take him out and make him a full-time starter,” Gibbons said.

So far, Biagini’s time as the rotation’s go-to understudy—made necessary primarily because of Aaron Sanchez’s season-long blister trouble—has earned mix reviews. He pitched 54 2/3 innings over his first 11 starts between May 7 and July 2, going as long as seven innings but being pulled after just one midway through the stint. Biagini allowing 39 runs off 60 hits and wracked up a 5.60 ERA over that period.

Gibbons called it a “tough time” for Biagini, who was sent back down to Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons, in August to work on a couple things, including incorporating his full windup into his pitching.

In his four starts since returning, Biagini has once against struggled with consistency, throwing little more than three frames on a pair of occasions while going seven and eight innings respectively in his other two outings. His ERA has improved slightly, to 4.91.

“He’s got to be getting ground balls. That’s his game. I think where he’s run into trouble, he’s been up too much,” Gibbons said.

Toronto’s bullpen, even without Biagini, has been one of the surprising bright spots in an otherwise dreary season. Ryan Tepera, Dominic Leone and Danny Barnes have all blossomed; Roberto Osuna has had his struggles but is still the go-to closer in the Blue Jays’ eyes; and the likes of youngsters Tim Mayza, Luis Santos and Carlos Ramirez have impressed down the stretch.

Still, Gibbons said you can never have enough long arms in relief.

“You try to eliminate that gap, getting to your certain guys,” he said.

That doesn’t mean Biagini is a shoe-in for a return, though. Gibbons won’t say which role he prefers for his player, but can see both sides of the argument, including the business of bringing someone new into the rotation. The Blue Jays will need an addition no matter what happens to Sanchez next season, after dealing left hander Francisco Liriano at the trade deadline.

“To sign those starters it costs some pretty good money so I think it’s going to be wait and see and then take a vote,” Gibbons said.

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