TORONTO -- Francisco Liriano's first start for the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday against the Kansas City Royals would be interesting enough under normal circumstances.
The deadline trade to acquire him from the Pittsburgh Pirates is a gamble.
The left-hander struggled this season with the Pirates, going 6-11 with a 5.46 ERA. The Blue Jays hope that being reunited with catcher Russell Martin will be a factor in turning around Liriano.
Martin and Liriano worked well together with Pittsburgh in 2013-14. Liriano has a 2.92 ERA with Martin catching. "I think we're pretty much on the same page," Liriano said. "We have a pretty good connection."
Adding to the interest is that the start also comes during the on-going quandary of what to do with Aaron Sanchez, who has performed so well in his first full season as a major league starter that some in upper management are concerned about limiting his innings.
A temporary compromise was reached Thursday when it was decided to go with a six-man rotation for the time being. The Blue Jays had said Sanchez would be going to the bullpen after his next start, a move that Martin and other players openly opposed.
It takes some heat off Liriano for now. He is not being asked to replace a starter who is 11-1 with a 2.71 ERA. When general manager Ross Atkins visited Houston to clarify the situation with Sanchez, Liriano offered to go to the bullpen if necessary.
Liriano still must show better than he did with the Pirates this season, however. Sanchez will start Saturday in the middle contest of the three-game series at Kauffman Stadium instead of Friday. Liriano is 6-5 with a 4.55 ERA in 17 games (14 starts) against the Royals.
Atkins discussed the situation with the starting pitchers and found a favorable reception to using a six-man rotation instead of moving Sanchez to the bullpen.
"The biggest thing is input from different people after something was more concrete, or closer to it, and the fact that Francisco Liriano was so open to everything," Atkins said. "Then the more we thought about the potential of a six-man rotation not just benefiting Aaron but benefiting the others in the rotation at this point in the season."
The Blue Jays got the 15th win of the season Thursday from left-hander J.A. Happ in a 4-1 victory over the Houston Astros, They won three in a row from the Astros after dropping the opener of the four-game series in 14 innings. The Blue Jays are 19-9 since July 1 and are a percentage point behind the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East.
The struggling Royals, who lost 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday on a three-run homer against reliever Joakim Soria in the eighth inning, start right-hander Dillon Gee (3-5, 4.66 ERA) on Friday. The bullpen is without Luke Hochevar and closer Wade Davis who are on the disabled list.
"We're to a point with our bullpen -- if we could get to a four-out save -- we might have used Kelvin (Herrera) there," manager Ned Yost said after the game Thursday. "But we just never got there. ...We're just real thin down there."
The Royals, the 2015 World Series champions, are 51-57 after a 2-6 road trip. They are 6-14 since the All-Star break.
Gee makes his eighth start and 22nd appearance of the season. He suffered his third straight loss when the Texas Rangers defeated the Royals 5-3. He allowed seven hits (including two home runs), one walk and four runs in six innings against Texas, his longest outing of the season.
He was with the New York Mets in 2012 when he made his only career start against the Blue Jays, a 6-5 win when he allowed three runs in 6 2/3 innings.
"Just get us through five and keep us in the game," Yost said. "He's done that. That's what we need from him. He got us through six innings last time and kept us in the game, and gave us a chance to win."