While Hyun Jin Ryu seeks out various medical opinions on his ailing elbow, Ross Stripling has become a permanent member of the Blue Jays' rotation.
Stripling represented the first line of insulation for Toronto's pitching depth entering the season and was always going to be called on for starts eventually. But now, with the sixth starter bumped up, the Blue Jays' next line of defense will be tested.
While Nate Pearson is the first name to jump to mind for many, there are three stretched-out arms in Triple A that better represent the team's immediate starting pitching depth. Here are those next arms up for the Blue Jays, and some notes from Buffalo Bisons pitching coach Jeff Ware:
Due to an offseason knee injury, Hatch had a shortened 2022 Spring Training. He was held to mostly back fields and live bullpens, when healthy, and appeared in just two MLB Spring Training innings. The rust was apparent in his opening Triple A outings, allowing 14 runs (6.63 ERA) in his first four starts.
“The first month of the season here in Buffalo was still kind of like a Spring Training for him,” Bisons pitching coach Jeff Ware said. “And then after the first few starts, everything started to click.”
After a rough first month, Hatch’s fastball location and feel for the changeup returned, and velocity ticked up, too. His ERA and walks have drastically dropped over the first three months and strikeouts are now up.
The righty has let up over two runs just once in his last five starts, striking out 30 and walking just six in that time. Hatch is seen as a top option next-man-up for starts or long innings with the Jays, per TSN's Scott Mitchell.
34-year-old Casey Lawrence won his first minor league Pitcher of the Week award in nine years earlier this month.
The veteran was out of Major League Baseball for over two years, pitching in Japan in 2019, having the minor-league season canned in 2020, and starting 2021 in independent ball. After the Jays re-signed him in May 2021, Lawrence showed he still had outs to get in the big leagues.
One member of the Blue Jays' front office described Lawrence as one of the most ferocious competitors in the organization. He's always had impeccable control, but the veteran recently ironed out his repertoire, adding a breaking ball and mixing a four-seamer with his usual sinker.
"He's not a guy who's gonna blow the radar away at 95, 96," Ware said. "But he can do it with command and mixing up his pitches to keep the hitters off-balance."
The veteran Lawrence is like "another coach" for the Bisons pitching staff, Ware said, but he's not simply a resource for younger players. The new weapons have unlocked something for him on the mound and he has a 1.77 ERA in 10 starts (61 IP) this season, with a WHIP of .820. Already on Toronto's 40-man, and with 3.1 successful MLB innings this season, his Triple A performance has earned him up the pecking order in Toronto's starting depth.
Rising up the farm, Castillo was one of several young Blue Jay arms to earn early-season promotions a few weeks ago, and has been nearly untouchable in Triple A. He's allowed just nine hits in his 23.1 innings with the Bisons, posting a .77 ERA and .771 WHIP.
The changeup has always been a formidable pitch for the Venezuelan, and further secondary pitch location and development have been a key for Castillo. Able to throw his fastball, slider, and change for strikes in 2022, Castillo has become less predictable and is “keeping them guessing,” Ware said. The secondary development has helped him become more efficient with two strikes, and his strikeout rates have peaked in 2022.
“Going in, he knows he’s better than everybody,” Ware said. “He’s all business, gets to work, and gets the job done with his stuff.”
While Castillo isn't ranked on any Blue Jays top prospect lists, he has "Major League Stuff," according to Ware. He isn't yet on the club's 40-man roster, unlike Hatch or Lawrence, but could force his way onto the roster with continued minors success. Despite pedestrian numbers in 2021, Castillo received an invite to MLB Spring Training in March alongside some organizational top prospects, so the Jays are clearly interested in what the young righty can bring.