And while his removal from the NBA Jerseys rotation has left a massive void -- both physically and mentally -- in the Blue Jays 2010 pitching picture, it will allow several young arms to get primetime innings. With Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan still question marks after surgeries kept them on the sidelines for the entire 2009 season, sophomore lefty Ricky Romero is the ace by default for the time being. The 25-year old had a "glass half-full" rookie campaign last season, making 29 starts -- winning 13 against 9 losses -- while pitching 178 innings, the most he had ever thrown in the pro ranks since the Jays selected him sixth overall in the 2005 June draft.
Yet while Romero clearly had a solid rookie season, which had him in Rookie of the Year debates around the all-star break, Romero ran out of gas once the "dog days" of the long season set in. Not a big guy to start with, improving his stamina is paramount if he’s to take his fledgling career to the next level.
I’m still finding it hard to watch Roy Halladay frolic around with his new Phillies buddies in a red jersey with No. 34 on the back.
Not that I have any ill feelings towards "Doc," arguably the greatest pitcher ever born and raised by the Blue Jays franchise. He had done about all that he could in Toronto, never shying away from his turn in the rotation and was well within his right to request a deal out of town once it became apparent that "Blue Jays" and "contender" wouldn’t be spoken in the same sentence for quite some time.
Brandon Morrow, acquired in the off-season from the Mariners for erratic power-reliever Brandon League, is slotted in the three-hole and will be a pitcher to watch as the spring rolls towards Opening Day. Drafted fifth overall in 2006, Morrow found himself in the majors less than a year later.
But the Mariners never seemed to give him a defined role and he bounced between the bullpen and the rotation while the team seemingly ran out of patience with the 25-year-old power right-hander. One hundred thirty-one games (15 of them starts) into his evolving career, Morrow’s 3.96 career ERA gives reason for optimism along with the fact that he has been told by Jays’ general manager Alex Anthopoulos that he will be a starter in Toronto, which will allow him to build up for, hopefully, 30-plus starts and close to 200 innings. That will help fill some of the void left by Halladay’s departure.
Marcum is slotted in as the No. 2 man having shown, before his elbow gave out after 25 starts in 2008, that he is a solid major-league starter. You may remember that before the injury, he was among the AL leaders with a miniscule .222 opponent’s batting average. Marcum won 20 times while making 50 starts from 2007-08 and if he can return to his past form -- always a big question following Tommy John surgery -- then that will make the front office and bench staff breathe a little easier.
It’s at the bottom of the rotation where most of the spring intrigue will take place. At present, young lefties Marc Rzepczynski and Brett Cecil will compete with veteran swingman Brian Tallet and former first-rounder David Purcey for the final two spots in the rotation.
Injuries forced Rzepczynski and Cecil to arrive ahead of schedule last season. Both showed flashes of brilliance and now must adjust to the adjustments that the opposition throws at them this season. Tallet is valuable in the swing role and will likely be called upon to make spot starts throughout the year, as we’ve painfully witnessed in the past when the injury bug starts biting.
Then there’s McGowan, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since July 2008 when his throwing shoulder seized up on him leading to surgery. As we’ve seen in his brief past -– a one-hitter against the Colorado Rockies in June 2007 comes to mind -– McGowan has the stuff to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. But the arm injury, coupled with a knee injury that he suffered while rehabbing, has slowed his development. If he can return close to where he was before, then that will also help fill the Halladay void.
And before they get shipped out to their minor-league assignments in early March, all eyes will be on a couple of young right-handers acquired via trade. Twenty-two-year-old Kyle Drabek, the centrepiece of the Halladay deal, and 23-year-old Zach Stewart, the key to the trade-deadline deal with the Reds for Scott Rolen, will be monitored closely as the Blue Jays’ rebuild begins taking shape.
So while things look bleak for the 2010 season, especially with, perhaps, the best starting pitcher in the game now in Philadelphia, there is reason to be optimistic about who they will fill the hole left by Halladay’s departure.
Here’s hoping that the changes in the front office have finally exorcized the bad karma that has surrounded this team for close to a decade. Maybe that alone, fingers crossed, would shoo away those pesky injury bugs that have held this franchise back for too many years to count.
Purcey is clearly approaching the crossroads of his career. From appearance to appearance, inning to inning, heck, even pitch to pitch, he can look equal parts great and horrible. When throwing strikes, Purcey can almost be unhittable. Twice in just 21 career starts he’s struck out 10-plus hitters, but he’s also walked an average of 4.7 hitters per nine innings, far too high a number to stick in a major-league rotation. At six-foot-five, he has the size and fastball to pitch at baseball’s top level. Whether or not he can finally put it all together for an extended period is the bigger question.