Ferguson: This season's Blue Jays rotation vs. last season's

Scott Ferguson
2/11/2013 12:26:44 PM
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Alex Anthopoulos had the kind of off-season that could lay the groundwork for Hall of Fame recognition in 20 years or so, or it could be one of those inspired efforts that didn't quite pan out. All of that remains to be decided on the diamond but of all the moves the Blue Jays GM made in the off-season, the most impactful ones have revolved around the starting rotation.
Remember a year ago, the Blue Jays' starting rotation in spring training projected as Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Henderson Alvarez and Dustin McGowan. That quickly changed when Cecil struggled with his velocity and earned a ticket to Las Vegas and McGowan got hurt again.
Next up, Kyle Drabek and rookie Drew Hutchison were inserted into the rotation, giving the Jays three starters with less than two years of Major League experience.
Then in June, things further deteriorated when Morrow, Drabek and Hutchison were all injured in a span of 96 hours. By the time the season was over, the Blue Jays used 12 different starters and that's not including McGowan, who never got into a game all season at the major league level.
Alvarez pitched a team-leading 187.1 innings last season. Romero was second best at 181. No-one else came even close.
Now, consider what A.A. added in the off-season: three starters in R.A. Dickey, lefty Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson - each of whom made at least 31 starts. Two of the three pitched over 200 innings and the third, Johnson, still had more than any other Jays starter at 191.1 innings. Buerhle is the iron horse, with 12 straight seasons of at least 200 innings. That trio should take a lot of the pressure off the two returning starters - Morrow and Romero - not to mention the bullpen if they can keep grinding out those 200-inning performances.
Are there any red flags? Well, maybe a couple. Dickey had a torn plantar fascia in his right foot in 2011. At 38 now, and even though a knuckleball doesn't tax the arm as much, the body can still begin to break down.
Johnson had shoulder issues as recently as two years ago, although he bounced back strongly last season. For Buehrle, it's simply a question of when, if ever, throwing all those innings might catch up with him.
Romero and Morrow simply have to stay healthy and show they can pitch at their peak ability consistently. If injuries happen this season, and at some point they probably will, the Jays will have much better depth than they did a year ago.

Lefty J.A. Happ and right hander Brad Lincoln will be stretched out at spring training and will either start at Buffalo in Triple A, or could factor in as long relievers with the big club who could start if needed.
The Jays also have 33-year-old right hander David Bush, whom I mentioned in a previous column, along with youngster Chad Jenkins who made three starts in the latter part of last season. Though they don't figure to have much of an impact this season, Drabek and Hutchison should be game ready at some point around or just after the all-star break.
Pitchers and catchers officially report to Dunedin on Tuesday and this veteran rotation, with an average age of 31.4, inspires a lot more confidence and optimism than the largely untried bunch of a year ago.
The entire roster reports this Saturday and the first Grapefruit Circuit game is the following Saturday at Lakeland against the Tigers.

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