Jays’ starting rotation has bright future


When looking for a reason why the Toronto Blue Jays have been able to maintain their plus .500 status, the immediate response you’re likely to hear would be the team’s sizzling bats.

With Jose Bautista eclipsing the 50-home run plateau and Vernon Wells returning to form after a rough 2009, the club’s offence has certainly been a big part of the success.

However, the Jays starting rotation is equally responsible for this season’s achievements.

Their top four starters have all enjoyed good years, and even with Toronto mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, the staff can look forward to another solid year in 2011.

Ricky Romero

Heading into the season, baseball pundits feared that Romero would suffer the infamous ‘sophomore slump.’

Instead, his banner year likely has made him the ace of the staff for the foreseeable future.

To date, Romero boasts the exact same record as last season, 13-9, but a tidy 3.75 earned run average is a dramatic improvement from the 4.30 he posted in 2009.

He has seen statistical improvements across the board, most notably in registering three complete games and one shutout, compared to none in both categories last season.

Romero pitched more innings, while allowing less hits, home runs and hit batters, signaling the 26-year-old has found more control over his pitches and more command of the strike zone.

Romero’s two worst starts of the year came in back-to-back outing in July against the Yankees and Red Sox, respectively. During his ‘slump’ at the beginning of the summer, he lasted a combined six innings and allowed 17 runs with only five strikeouts. He will need to be better against these tough A.L. East opponents in order to improve on his record.

Shaun Marcum

Taking a year off to recover from Tommy John surgery and jumping back into the rigors of a 162-game schedule is something that many major-leaguers would be unable to accomplish.

Marcum made it look easy.

To date, he’s matched his career-high in wins (12) and has already surpassed his season-high strikeout totals . Recovering from the same surgery that has taken the careers of many pitchers, Marcum responded by playing 30 more innings than yv==in any other season.

Marcum’s best pitching performance came in the month of May, where he was 5-0 with a 1.85 ERA, a stretch where he won four consecutive starts.

Unfortunately, he didn’t see the same success down the stretch, likely suffering from fatigue after taking a year off. The month of August was not kind to Marcum, as he went 1-3 with a 5.06 ERA in the summer sun.

Marcum should only continue to recover in 2011 and will need to work on consistency in the later months to help push Toronto toward playoff contention.

Brandon Morrow

To say Morrow had a breakout year is an understatement.

Since arriving from the Seattle Mariners, Morrow has shown flashes of brilliance in Toronto, compiling 10 wins, two more than his entire three-year tenure in Seattle.

The right-hander was shut down after his Sept. 3 start against the Yankees because the team wanted to limit his innings.

Morrow has emerged as the Jays’ strikeout king, leading the team with 178 Ks, placing him in the top 25 pitchers in the league, and he’s done it in the least amount of innings (146.1).

He showed his true potential in his Aug. 8 start at home against the Tampa Bay Rays. Morrow fanned a career-high 17 batters and coming one out short of a no-hitter.

The Santa Rosa, Calif., native struck out every batter in the staring lineup at least once against the hard-hitting Rays.

As the Jays increase his innings next season, expect more of the same from Morrow. He was great down the stretch and late into the season, going 3-0 in the month of August, with a 2.97 ERA and 49 strikeouts in five starts.

At only 26 years of age, Morrow’s best years should still be ahead of him.

Brett Cecil

The youngest of their top-four pitchers, the 24-year-old Cecil is starting to establish his legacy as one of the best young starters in the league.

Cecil has appeared in 26 games this season, nine more than in 2009, and saw his ERA improve from 5.30 to 4.25 thanks to his increased play. The biggest area of improvement in Cecil’s game appears to be his control, where he has the same amount of home runs allowed (17) as he did last season, but with 68 more innings pitched.

Another indicator that Cecil is in control and coming into his own as a major-league starter is that in his 161 innings pitched, he hasn’t hit a single batter. Not one. Even the best pitchers in the league have a pitch or two slip out of their hand at some point but not Cecil, meaning he’s in charge of what’s leaving his hand.

Cecil’s consistency has been the strength of his game. He’s only had four games in which he’s allowed more than five earned runs.

He also had only one losing month (2-3 in June) and had a stretch of five straight victories between May 19 and June 10. Jays fans should expect more of the same as the team looks ahead to 2011.