Opportunity knocks for young Jays pitchers

Henderson Alvarez is one of the many young Blue Jays who are getting their chance to pitch for the...

Henderson Alvarez is one of the many young Blue Jays who are getting their chance to pitch for the big-league club. (Getty Images)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:03 AM ET

OAKLAND - The more August advances toward September, the more you get the feeling that the Blue Jays are taking inventory, trying to get a fix on who is real and who’s just taking up space.

As this team moves forward, especially once this season is in the books, the front office needs to have a fix on what it has as it tries to move to the next level.

“We are not making that the priority,” manager John Farrell said. “It’s important to us to win as many games as we can and to finish as high as we can, but we’re also looking at guys who at this time next year or even in spring training, are going to be that much higher on the depth chart.

“Exposure at this time of year can go a long way to making them more of a known commodity next year.”

At some point there comes a moment when a promising player either needs to deliver on that promise or be overtaken by the next hot prospect on the depth chart.

Pitchers like Luis Perez, Brad Mills, Henderson Alvarez and, perhaps, Joel Carreno are who we’re talking about here.

Yesterday after three mediocre starts, Mills was sent to the minors and Perez was moved into the rotation, at least for Sunday’s start here in Oakland. Mills’ spot on the roster will be taken by Double A pitcher Carreno.

As Farrell pointed out the other day when talking about Alvarez, there is no way to replicate the big-league environment except in the big leagues. It can be a cruel and unforgiving laboratory that can provide immediate and jarring feedback, as Mills has discovered.

In his three August starts, Mills lasted just 111/3 innings, gave up 15 hits, nine walks and 15 earned runs against three of the American league’s weaker teams (Baltimore, Oakland and Seattle).

Big-league opportunity can also be a crucible upon which the foundation of a career can be built, as both Alvarez and Perez may be experiencing.

Farrell prefers to look at this move as a reward for Perez’s quality work as opposed to a demotion for Mills’ inability to keep the ball down.

“We think (Mills) could be an effective major-league pitcher as long as he keeps the ball down and thrsows strikes,” Farrell said.

“When that isn’t there, things can unravel on him. That wasn’t the sole reason for this move. Certainly it factored into it but what we’ve seen out of Luis is why we’re taking this step.

“From our discussions internally, it just felt like we wanted a chance to see Luis in that role because of the way he’s thrown in the bullpen.”

Carreno, a starter who struck out 152 in 134 innings at New Hampshire this year, will work out of the bullpen with the Jays. At 24, he has already pitched 587 minor-league innings and struck out 634 batters.

Alvarez, who will make his third start Saturday here against the Athletics, is looking like a kid ready to put the bit in his teeth and run with it.

“He’s in a good place,” said assistant GM Tony LaCava. “You look at his body language and you look at his temperament. He’s totally relaxed. He looks like he belongs and he feels like he belongs.

“We’ll get a good read on him and he’ll get a good read on what he needs to do. He has a power arm. He gets it up to 97, with a lot of movement; movement that sometimes was too big. Commanding that kind of movement is tough.”

What Farrell likes most about what he sees in Alvarez is his willingness to pitch to contact, even when he has men on base.

“The poise and the mound presence is what really stood out. He doesn’t fear contact, in fact, he seems to seek it out even when he’s in a bit of trouble.

“For 21 years old and coming straight out of double-A, he’s handling himself very well.”

Farrell has also been a big fan of Perez, for many of the same reasons: cool under pressure.

In relief of Mills in Seattle, Perez pitched four innings and gave up a run on three hits and two walks.

“He threw 61 pitches so (Sunday) we expect he’ll throw a few more than that.”

It’s just another big opportunity for a young Blue Jays pitcher and it apparently is the season for it.


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