With Francisco Liriano struggling and potentially injured, the Blue Jays could be looking to replace their No. 5 starter.
We’ve come a long way in 2017. In March, we wondered if Francisco Liriano was baseball’s best No. 5 starter. After some injuries and a pile of mediocre starts, we’ve learned that that is…probably not true. Liriano left Thursday’s game after just 2.1 innings pitched, allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits and a walk. Liriano insists that his recent neck injury isn’t an issue.
Liriano leaves the game in the 2nd inning with a 6.28 ERA, and it's time to start talking about his rotation spot.
— Keegan Matheson (@KeeganMatheson) July 20, 2017
After the above tweet, Keegan listed a few more arms in the Blue Jays system that might be able to work some of Francisco Liriano’s innings, should he be removed from the rotation. Mike Bolsinger (who just went on the DL with knee inflammation) and Cesar Valdez were the first to be mentioned in a very-safe-for-work tweet, with the even less sexy Brett Oberholtzer as another option. In lieu of acquiring a starter from another franchise, which would require giving up the team’s assets, there’s simply not many options out there.
That is, until, you take a look at the Blue Jays most successful starter in the upper minors in 2017: Chris Rowley.
Rowley passed prospect status some time ago, and at 26, won’t be listed on any new lists despite his excellent 2016 and 2017 seasons. Between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017, Rowley is 5-4 with a 2.12 ERA over 80 2/3 innings. He’s posted a 8.2 K/9 so far with Buffalo, but sustaining this all with a (bit too high) 1.360 WHIP. However, since his call-up to Triple-A, he’s allowed zero home runs in 28 2/3 innings.
Aside from 123 IP in 2016 at a 3.49 ERA, Rowley hasn’t really struggled in the minors. He was a solid prospect in college, but the Blue Jays managed to sign him after a 9-4, 2.63 ERA senior year, as Rowley went undrafted. So why would a college pitcher with such solid stats, pitching in Division-1, go undrafted? Simple: in 2013, Rowley played a couple months with Dunedin to fill the calendar before doing a two-year tour of duty with the Army in Bulgaria and Romania.
Rowley stayed in shape in Eastern Europe, but of course was not in game shape (though Army shape might be a step up from baseball fit.) Rowley returned to The States in 2016, splitting his time between High-A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire after acquiring the needed paperwork to avoid a five-year stint in the service.
So since returning from his required Army service, Rowley has been a quality professional ballplayer. The layoff doesn’t seem to have hurt his placement in the organization, and his promotion to Buffalo in early June shows that the Blue Jays are confident in the 6’2″ right hander.
But can he fill in for Francisco Liriano? Well, almost anyone can right now, as the lefty has allowed 13 earned runs in 14 innings in July, striking out just 10 and walking eight. Valdez might be the first in line from within the organization, but don’t be surprised if Chris Rowley takes the hill for the Toronto Blue Jays at some point in 2017.
*Featured Image Credit: R Widrig- JFtC
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