TORONTO -- Most of the attention during the Blue Jays' recent string of success was directed toward the club's high-powered offense, but the starting rotation also has carried its fair share of weight.
Toronto entered play Monday night on a six-game winning streak, and in all of those contests, the starter earned the decision. The wins have begun to pile up, at least in part because the Blue Jays allowed two runs or less in four straight games and seven of their last 10.
The trickle-down effect is that there hasn't been the need to carry an extra reliever in the bullpen. That provides manager John Gibbons with another option off the bench, and the entire roster is better off because of it.
"As well as they have been pitching, they've all been throwing enough innings now, so we haven't needed that extra guy in the 'pen," Gibbons said. "So that's big. It all revolves around starting pitching. If your starting pitching is good, then you have a chance. If it's not, then it's tough. I don't care what kind of offense you've got, what kind of defense you've got. That's the key to any team in baseball."
The starting rotation had been a big question mark for the team all season long, but the numbers are relatively solid. Toronto ranks fifth in the American League -- first in the AL East -- with a 3.66 ERA from its starters entering play Monday. The main problem, at least early on, was a lack of innings from the staff and the toll that took on an overworked bullpen.
The situation may soon become a problem again, with some question marks still surrounding Liam Hendriks and J.A. Happ, but for now, Gibbons feels good.
"To be honest, I'm not concerned about anything right now," Gibbons said. "You know how the baseball season goes, ups and downs. We'll go through it. Happ, I feel really good about Happ. He's 4-1; he has been really good.
"There was some doubt hanging over everybody's head about what he was going to do. He came back off the back [injury with] speculation about starting in the 'pen and how was he going to end up. But he's put his money where his mouth is right now. Hendriks, I mean he was good for us in Triple-A and he was good the other night, but we really don't know what he is yet up here."
Blue Jays finding rhythm with strengthened bench
TORONTO -- It took a lot longer than first anticipated, but the Blue Jays have used the month of May to find defined roles for all of their players on the 25-man roster.
Toronto began the year with a three-man bench and a reserve outfielder in Moises Sierra, who wasn't offering much value. The career numbers of Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus suggested the need for at least a part-time platoon vs. left-handed pitching, but there was no obvious candidate to step in and fill the void.
Even behind the plate there were some concerns, as Dioner Navarro hadn't started more than 89 games since 2009 and Josh Thole wasn't a particularly solid option against lefties. In other words, the bench was a mess, but as the year progressed, a few viable alternatives started to emerge.
Third baseman Juan Francisco, infielder Steve Tolleson, outfielders Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar and catcher Erik Kratz were all added to the roster. Some of the moves were based on injuries and others were based on need, but overall, they have provided the Blue Jays with a well-rounded group.
"We have a handful of them," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of the recruits from Triple-A Buffalo. "We brought Tolleson up to be the second baseman against left-handers. He's doing a great job with that. Of course, Gose and Pillar filling in for Colby -- been a pretty good combo there. Kratzy has been up and down a couple of times, but he has filled in. They're all contributing."
The depth has enabled the Blue Jays to field a much better starting lineup against left-handed starting pitchers. Toronto began the year with a 3-5 record against lefties, but entered play on Monday night vs. Erik Bedard with wins in eight of nine games.
The Blue Jays have gone with the unorthodox approach of carrying three catchers on the roster in a surprisingly effective manner. Thole starts when Dickey pitches and Kratz plays against lefties, while Navarro is technically still the regular starter.
"One thing about Kratz, he's able to give Navarro a little bit of a breather," Gibbons said. "Against left-handed pitching, we can DH Dino; that's where we feel we're the strongest."
Rasmus does on-field drills, possibly back next week
TORONTO -- Colby Rasmus is one step closer to making his return to the Blue Jays' lineup after going through a series of on-field running drills Monday afternoon.
Rasmus has been out of action since May 12 because of a strained right hamstring. He's eligible to come off the disabled list for Wednesday's series finale vs. Tampa Bay, but he will need a few more days than that to recover.
The first step was running on the field, and Rasmus will slowly increase the intensity of those workouts before he goes on a rehab assignment. The Blue Jays won't commit to a timeframe for his return, but he'll likely be out at least another week.
"He was out there running and shagging in early BP," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "We'll see, we'll see in the next few days what happens."
When Rasmus does make his return, the Blue Jays will be faced with a difficult roster decision. Toronto is carrying three catchers, and Gibbons likes this configuration because it allows veteran Dioner Navarro to start at designated hitter vs. left-handed pitching.
That leaves either Anthony Gose or Kevin Pillar as the logical options for a demotion. Both players have been playing well over the past couple of weeks, but offer very different skill sets. Gose is the superior defender in center field and provides lethal speed off the bench. The right-handed hitting Pillar could provide Rasmus with a bit of a break when there's a lefty on the mound.
The Blue Jays will likely have to make that decision in a week or so, and at least for now, aren't going to tip their hand.
"We'll worry about that when we get there," is all Gibbons would say on the matter.