Joe Biagini shows intriguing potential as a starter

Sunday, May 7, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – When you think about it, the Toronto Blue Jays asked a lot of Joe Biagini Sunday. Two months after they decided to stop experimenting with Biagini as a starter, they gave him all of two days notice and asked him to start a big-league game for the first time in his career.

Sure, Biagini was stretched out in spring training, but that was months ago. Leading up to the start, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said he’d be thrilled if he could get four innings from the former Rule 5 pick. Given the state of the Blue Jays’ rotation, they had to take what they could get.

Biagini responded with an outing that did more than keep the Blue Jays in a game they would eventually win 2-1. By limiting the Tampa Bay Rays to one unearned run in four innings, he showed enough potential as to earn another turn in the Blue Jays’ rotation.

“You know what, I thought he was dominating,” manager John Gibbons said.

Five days from now the Blue Jays will call on Biagini for his second MLB start. When he takes the ball against the Seattle Mariners in Toronto, he’ll have plenty to build on.

Biagini allowed just two hits Sunday, striking out four on a day he mixed in three off-speed pitches to complement a fastball that touched 95 mph. The lone run he allowed scored because Devon Travis mishandled a routine Kevin Kiermaier ground ball in the third inning. Otherwise, Biagini didn’t let anyone get past first base.

“He’s got stuff to start in the big-leagues,” pitching coach Pete Walker said before the outing. “We know that.”

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The Blue Jays’ bullpen picked up Biagini with five one-hit innings from Aaron Loup, Ryan Tepera, Joe Smith and Roberto Osuna. That was enough to keep pace with Rays starter Alex Cobb, who delivered eight efficient innings of his own.

The Blue Jays had trouble hitting Cobb, but they managed enough offence to win their second series of the season before heading home to Toronto. Kevin Pillar led off the sixth inning with his second hit of the afternoon, a double, and Russell Martin singled him home.

Two innings later, Darwin Barney hit a ball into the left field seats for his first home run of the season. Though Barney’s a glove-first player, the Blue Jays will welcome all of the unexpected offence they can get, especially while infielders Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki remain sidelined on the disabled list.

The Blue Jays’ rotation remains a work in progress, even after Sunday’s win. A spot starter, perhaps Mike Bolsinger, will join the team Tuesday, and Aaron Sanchez could return from the disabled list Sunday May 14. Those two variables mean the starting staff remains in flux.

But with J.A. Happ still sidelined, there’s at least one spot available in the rotation, and Biagini’s effort Sunday earned him a continued look in that role.

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