Rotation worries for Jays

BOB ELLIOTT, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:05 PM ET

The curtain goes up on a history-making season tonight at the Rogers Centre.

After a strictly Canadian scoreboard presentation, Roy Halladay takes the mound against the Detroit Tigers.

And the rest of way ... well, get ready.

For the first time in this their 33rd year, the Blue Jays open the season with three arms in their starting rotation with less than 66 innings of major league experience to their names.

In manager Cito Gaston's eyes, lefty David Purcey is still a rookie, although Purcey can't win the American League rookie of the year award, missing out on qualifying by 15 innings.

Gaston will be running out Purcey (65 innings) tomorrow night, former No. 1 pick Ricky Romero (making his major league debut Thursday afternoon) and Scott Richmond (27 innings) at Jacobs Field in the home opener for the Cleveland Indians.

Basically three starts out of every five go to rookies.

"It's going to be a challenge, that's for sure," Alex Rios said. "They're young guys. Not much experience, but I've seen all three either last year or this spring -- they're good."

The old Boston Braves had a theme to get past their pitching woes:

"Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain. And pray for rain."

What phrase best typifies the Jays starters?

"Halladay and Jesse Litsch.

"And hope the roof has a mechanical glitch."

Gaston thought long and hard about the last time he had seen a rotation with three green starters.

"Not here," Gaston said. "Maybe when I broke in with the San Diego Padres."

Gaston was a rookie with the 1969 Padres, an expansion team.

"Romero has matured the last two starts I saw him," said Vernon Wells, senior member of the everyday lineup. "The good thing is they all throw the ball over the plate and don't get into much trouble with walks.

"Not many hitters have seen them before, that should help, too. They'll have issues at this level, every young pitcher does."

Current general manager J.P. Ricciardi said when he was with the Oakland A's, Mark Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito were in the same rotation.

"They were not rookies at the same time," Ricciardi told reporters. "We drafted all three, never used an option (to demote to the minors) on any one of them and all pitched between 180-225 innings. I don't know if that's a blueprint or good fortune."

The good fortune which shone on the Jays four-fifths homegrown rotation (Halladay and Dustin McGowan from the Ash era; Litsch and Shawn Marcum from the current regime) of a year ago has faded to a dirty unwashed uniform worn by Marco Scutaro for two weeks.

"We did not anticipate having to put three rookies into the rotation," Ricciardi said.

Come next season Ricciardi envisions a top three of Halladay, Litsch and Marcum, who Ricciardi said may be back this season.

Then, he'd have Casey Janssen, who he hopes is back next month, McGowan, expected to return later than May, Brett Cecil, Brad Mills, Romero, Richmond and Purcey to battle for the other two spots. The first pothole for a young starter this season likely sees Mills recalled from triple-A Las Vegas.

Ricciardi hopes that is down the road.

'PLAY HARD'

Three Gaston-classified rookies out of every five starts or six out of every 10, if you are calculating along at home.

"I don't know if it is my job to make a sales pitch to fans," Ricciardi said. "I guess the selling point is to come and see us play. We're going to show up. We're going to play hard."

The team payroll on the Jays has shrunk from $98 million US (no more A.J. Burnett, Frank Thomas' hefty contract is off the books) to roughly $85 million.

"We had rookies Rich Hill, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol in the Cubs rotation in 2006 when Mark Pryor and Kerry Wood were hurt," said catcher Michael Barrett, now in his 12th year.

"That," said Barrett with a smile, "is a reason why I'm here. I'm a perfect fit."

Barrett is not in doubt.

The question is whether the three rookies fit.


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