DUNEDIN, Fla. — Brandon Morrow, the No. 2 pitcher in the Jays rotation, will open the 2011 season on the sidelines and the disabled list, a victim of a cautious approach by the Blue Jays.
Morrow, who is considered to have the best stuff and highest ceiling on the staff, will be put on the disabled list prior to the start of the season backdated to March 22 and the expectations are that he will miss just the one start. Smile if you’ve heard that one before.
A right-hander, Morrow informed the club that something was amiss while throwing a bullpen session two days ago. He went for a MRI which revealed inflammation in the flexor muscle of his right elbow.
With Morrow going on the DL, it officially ends the competition for what were the open two spots in the back of the rotation.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos said that following Ricky Romero, who will make the start on Opening Day, will be rookie right-hander Kyle Drabek in Morrow’s spot, followed by lefty Brett Cecil, then left-hander Jo-Jo Reyes, who made the start Wednesday night against the Yankees in Tampa and finally, right-hander Jesse Litsch.
Anthopoulos added that Morrow wouldn’t be alone on the Jays DL as they will also put closer Frank Francisco on the list, also backdated to March 22, — he’s suffering a strained pectoral muscle and inflammation of his right biceps — and that Jon Rauch will take over the closer role.
Anthopoulos said that the Jays were being cautious with Morrow and would rather he miss just the one start now than put it to the test on April 2 and injure it further.
“Brandon was just in there (clubhouse) making his case that he feels good,” Anthopoulos said. “It’s one of those things that we’re just going to be extra-cautious. If it was a playoff game, he would pitch. We already know we’re going to monitor his innings throughout the year.”
The plan is for Morrow to be idle for five days before he starts to throw again. He will then pitch in a minor-league game in Florida and if all goes well he should be eligible to come off the DL April 6. That would put him in line to make his season debut April 8 in Anaheim against the Los Angeles.
Morrow lobbied hard not to be placed on the DL but lost that court room battle.
“He really is adamant that he can go,” Anthopoulos said. “We said: ‘That’s fine, we understand that.’ But why try to rush if it’s only going to be one start?”
Another factor that weighed in the decision was that Morrow would have had a limited number of starts this season to keep his number of innings pitched under control. Last season in 26 starts he logged 1461/3 innings and this season is going to be held to around 175.
“We didn’t plan on Brandon throwing 220 innings during the year anyway,” Anthopoulos said. “It ends up helping to shave some of the innings, works with the backdating so we took the decision out of his hands.”
Last season, Morrow was 10-7 with a 4.49 ERA in his first full season as a starter. A pure power pitcher, Morrow had 178 strikeouts in his 1461/3 innings and has electric stuff.
Anthopoulos said that having Drabek open in Morrow’s spot doesn’t mean he finished first in the competition with Reyes and Litsch. It was more the matter of what order they’ve been throwing during spring training.
“We were trying to line it up which way does the rotation made the most sense without having to alter everyone’s routine,” Anthopoulos said. “Instead of shifting all the parts around, the way it’s the least disruptive is to have Drabek in the two hole, Reyes in the four and Litsch in the five because they are already lined up that way. So the only person we have to adjust is Kyle.”
Anthopoulos also said that the Jays rotation plans this season are not to bump anybody following an off day.
“In years past we used to skip the fifth starter and things like that,” Anthopoulos said. “Because we have a young rotation, we want to continue to run out the five guys and not skip the fifth starter. It’s a great way to continue to monitor the innings and limit the innings and if that means we shave off a start or two at the end of the season because we didn’t skip anybody that works well for the entire five guys.
“If we’re overly cautious we’re fine with that.”
Cautious — that seems to be the buzz word of the season.