Mailbag: Who'll round out rotation?
Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers Jays fans' questions
Now that Spring Training games are half over and Opening Day is getting closer, which pitchers are leading the pack for the last two spots in the rotation?
-- Matt M., Lunenburg, Nova Scotia
The Blue Jays have a nice problem on their hands. No pitchers have emerged as the clear-cut favorites to win either the fourth or fifth rotation spots, but that's because the contenders have pitched well as a group. The decision will likely come down to the final week of Spring Training.
One of the bigger surprises of the spring might be the performance by Josh Towers. Through three starts, the right-hander has gone 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA and he's looked nothing like the starter who went 2-10 with an 8.42 ERA in 2006 for the Jays. Instead, Towers has looked more like he did in '05, when he and lefty Gustavo Chacin tied for the team lead with 13 victories.
Spring stats can be deceiving, though. Last year, Towers went 2-0 with a 4.44 ERA in six Grapefruit League starts. Nevertheless, his command has been much better, his confidence is soaring, and there's always the $2.9 million in guaranteed 2007 salary to keep in mind.
If Towers does indeed carry his solid spring performance through until the final week, that means Toronto will have one hole to fill in the rotation. Right-handers Tomo Ohka, John Thomson, Victor Zambrano and Casey Janssen are the top candidates still in camp.
Of those four pitchers, only Ohka has a Major League contract in place for '07. The Jays signed him to a one-year, $1.5 million deal in January, and the club would still have to pay that money if Ohka wasn't on the Opening Day roster. The contracts for Thomson and Zambrano are both of the Minor League variety, while Janssen is still in his option years.
Ohka and Thomson have each had good and bad starts this spring. Zambrano continues to be ahead of schedule in his return from the reconstructive elbow surgery he had last May, and the Jays have been building up his innings like they would with a starter. Janssen has pitched well, but he's probably going to start at Triple-A Syracuse.
Does it make more sense to put right fielder Alex Rios, who is a better runner than first baseman Lyle Overbay, in the No. 2 spot in the lineup instead of the sixth spot?
-- Rob S., Sudbury, Ontario
Overbay is projected to be Toronto's No. 2 hitter, but that doesn't mean Rios won't bat in that slot. There's a good chance that Rios will occasionally slide into the second spot when left-handed starters are on the mound.
One of the reasons the Blue Jays like Overbay in the second spot is because he's a left-handed hitter -- the only pure lefty in the lineup, in fact. If the leadoff hitter reaches first base, the first baseman typically will play closer to the bag in order to hold the runner on. That creates a hole between the first and second basemen that a left-handed batter can try to pull a ball through in order to advance the runner.
Even taking the left-handed factor out of the equation, Overbay seems like a good fit in the second spot. He was Toronto's most consistent hitter last season (he hit .300 in every month but April), and he has the ability to spray hits to all fields. Overbay's knack for getting doubles can only benefit the hitters behind him. Overbay's career on-base percentage (.372) is also higher than that of Rios (.331).
Why is Russ Adams going to be playing second base for Triple-A Syracuse? Wouldn't it make more sense to continue grooming him at shortstop, considering there will be a void there again next season?
-- Anthony C., Newmarket, Ontario
The Blue Jays are hoping there isn't a void at short in 2008. True, they only signed veteran shortstop Royce Clayton to a one-year deal for '07, but the team isn't ruling out moving Aaron Hill back to short next season.
Hill is going to be Toronto's full-time second baseman this season, but he came up through the Jays' Minor League system as a shortstop and played the position in college. Shortstop isn't unfamiliar to Hill, and he's willing to move wherever Toronto wants him to go.
The Jays believe Adams can still become a solid Major Leaguer, especially if he continues to develop as a second baseman. Adams was originally groomed as a shortstop, but he also played second base during his days at University of North Carolina. Toronto also feels it's more beneficial for Adams to have regular playing time in the Minors than to have him riding the bench with the Jays.
Have a question about the Blue Jays?
E-mail your query to MLB.com Blue Jays beat reporter Gregor Chisholm for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
Any word on how the Blue Jays are handling Gustavo Chacin's DUI charge?
-- Geoff, Manchester, N.H.
The Blue Jays are letting the legal system handle the punishment for Chacin, who was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol at 3:43 a.m. ET on Friday in Tampa, Fla. The left-handed pitcher has already pitched since the arrest, and he's slated to be Toronto's No. 3 starter in the regular season.
One prospect that I expected to hear a lot about this spring was Dustin McGowan. It seems McGowan has been knocking at the door for some time, but he has struggled with consistency. What's his status on the depth chart?
-- Matthew S., Guelph, Ontario
Toronto acquired a fourth option year for McGowan and they utilized it last week by sending the right-hander to Triple-A Syracuse. His performance was inconsistent this spring and he'll head to the Minors to get regular work out of the rotation. McGowan will probably be one of the first Minor Leaguers considered if Toronto's rotation faces any setbacks during the regular season.
What kind of role do you expect Brandon League to step into this year? Is he the undeniable setup man to B.J. Ryan in the bullpen?
-- Axle R., Victoria, British Columbia
Right now, it's looking doubtful that League will break camp with the Jays. He's behind schedule compared to the other relievers because of a strained right lat muscle that began bothering him about a month ago. League should be back in Toronto's bullpen soon, though, and the club likes his potential for the eighth-inning setup job. If he isn't exclusively in that role, League will still be utilized as a late-inning reliever.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.