ST. PETERSBURG, Florida - When Ramon Ortiz throws a pitch in the first inning of Friday's game in Boston, he will become the oldest player (39 years and 352 days) to start a game for the Blue Jays since Dave Stieb (41 years, 55 days) on September 15, 1998.
It's not how general manager Alex Anthoupolos drew it up. The rotation was supposed to be a strength coming in to the season, but injuries to Josh Johnson, J.A. Happ and Brandon Morrow mean Ortiz will take the ball at Fenway Park.
"I think any time you lose members of your rotation, you can never replace those guys otherwise those guys would be in the rotation to begin with," said Anthopoulos. "You know you're not the first team to go through it, you know you're not going to go through a season using five starters, that's just reality."
Compounding matters is the plight of Ricky Romero, who stood at his locker after Wednesday night's disastrous start and insisted he belonged in the major leagues. The Blue Jays clearly don't agree, having optioned the left-hander to Triple-A Buffalo on Thursday morning.
Romero, working through a mechanical overhaul of his delivery, had but one minor league start prior to his recall last Friday. While the outing for class-A Dunedin was effective, it seemed unreasonable to expect Romero to perform at a high level so soon.
In the wake of the Johnson arm injury was Romero recalled too soon?
"Hindsight is 20-20, I don't know if we would have brought him up two weeks later, three weeks later, would this have occurred," said Anthopoulos. You look at other players, we've had Travis Snider go down and I know he doesn't pitch, but we've had position players go down for months, come back and have to go back down again. Sometimes it takes time."
"It's easy to say now, but under the circumstances, I know Dane's been working with him hard," said pitching coach Pete Walker. "The reports have been great – even the side sessions, bullpens, simulated games, extended games, Dunedin. Looking back, I guess that's easy to say from the outside but I know the reports that Dane had and the people that have seen him down there were all very positive. I can see why. I see some good results in what he's done, but they just didn't translate on the field."
So Romero will pitch for Buffalo, for an unspecified amount of time, under the tutelage of Bisons' pitching coach Bob Stanley. Roving pitching instructor Dane Johnson, who's worked with Romero since March, will continue to consult but is expected to be less hands-on.
The rotation for the series at Fenway Park is expected to be Ortiz on Friday, Mark Buehrle on Saturday and Morrow on Sunday, health permitting.
Then comes an unusual scheduling quirk. The Jays have Monday off and play a two-game series against the Giants on Tuesday and Wednesday before another off day on Thursday.
The club will be able to work a four-man starting rotation until May 21, the next time a fifth starter will be needed. It's unlikely Johnson, who's just started playing catch as he works through triceps inflammation, would be ready to pitch by then. In fact, the Blue Jays have pegged the 21st as the day of Johnson's first minor league rehab start.
In the meantime, J.A. Happ is expected to need four to six weeks of recovery time after suffering a skull fracture and sprained right knee when he was hit in the head by a line drive on Tuesday night.
DOWN ON THE FARM
Right-hander Roberto Osuna, 18, one of the Blue Jays' top pitching prospects may be headed for Tommy John Surgery. Osuna, who has pitching for class-A Lansing, left his last start with discomfort in his elbow.
"He went and got examined by Dr. Andrews and right now they said just to give him a few days and start playing catch," said Anthopoulos. "He's going to throw to 60-feet (on Friday.) Right now it's basically rest and rehab. But there is a scenario if he does have a flare up again in the next few weeks that ultimately he may need Tommy John."
Marcus Stroman, 22, is eligible to be reinstated from a 50-game drug-related suspension on May 19.
Anthopoulos says Stroman, who the Blue Jays took with the 22nd overall pick in last June's draft, was topping out at 96-mph on his fastball in an extended spring training start earlier this week.
Expect Stroman to be assigned to Double-A New Hampshire when his suspension ends.