Blue Jays' Yariel Rodriguez takes his high-energy mound show on the road

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One start, as encouraging as it was, does not provide nearly enough evidence to fully make any definitive conclusions.

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One start, however, can be enough to sufficiently leave an impression.

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For Yariel Rodriguez, his second start arrives Friday night in San Diego where the Blue Jays begin a stretch that will see them play 13 games in 13 days.

At least for the start of the Jays’ road trip, all eyes will be on the Cuban free agent Rodriguez, who signed this past off-season to a five-year contract worth $32 million.

The Jays hit the road following a successful homestand that could have looked much more encouraging had they swept the New York Yankees, who came back late by taking advantage of a Toronto bullpen that was short on available arms.

Still, the Blue Jays would win all three of their series at home after losing all three to open the schedule in Tampa, Houston and the Bronx.

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When Rodriguez was given the ball to start against visiting Colorado last Saturday, he became the first Cuban-born player to start a game for the Blue Jays in club history.

From the moment he made his way from the bullpen to the mound, there was something different about Rodriguez, who oozed an energy that clearly was infectious.

He went on to show that his stuff will play in the big leagues, but it was only one start, an outing that lasted 3.2 innings, giving up one earned run, striking out six and getting a rousing ovation from the Toronto fans as he left the mound.

His fastball topped out at 97.6 mph.

Precisely where Rodriguez fits in the team’s pitching puzzle will be determined only once he’s able to piece together some kind of a sample size. In time, he may prove to be a legitimate starter. At worse, some believe he is more than capable of serving as a quality leverage reliever.

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It’s now up to Rodriguez to build on his debut and potentially cement his role as the No. 5 starter.

It will also be interesting to see if he brings that same type of energy and vibrancy on the road that he showed in abundance last week at home.

Keep in mind the long road Rodriguez had to take to reach the bigs, the many sacrifices involved, the fact he did not pitch professionally in 2023, and one might understand why the enthusiasm and appreciation was so palpable and authentic in his debut.

Toss in the swing and misses on his slider and there’s plenty of optimism surrounding Rodriquez.
In the aftermath of his debut, Rodriguez was louded for his fearlessness, his presence, his ability to control the running game and field his position.

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Granted, it was one game.

Going deeper in Friday night’s start will represent another step in his evolution and continued evaluation.

With Kevin Gausman looking like he has rebounded from a poor start to the season following his shortened spring training, the Jays’ rotation has once again emerged as the team’s strength.
When he reared back and threw a 97.9 mph fastball on Wednesday afternoon, it was Gausman’s hardest pitch of the season.

A year ago, Gausman was a third-place finisher in American League Cy Young Award voting who struck out 237 batters over 185 innings.

Jose Berrios has bumped Gausman off the perch where staff aces reside, at least for the time being. Chris Bassitt and Yusei Kikuchi have each acquitted themselves well.

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The way Gausman pitched in the series finale versus the Bronx Bombers allowed the Jays to exhale given his previous outings, including his outing at Yankee Stadium where his velocity was alarmingly down on a cold night in the Big Apple.

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OHTANI LOOMING

Following their three-game set against the Padres, the Jays will be in Kansas City to the play the host Royals.
Then comes a highly anticipated and what will surely be a highly charged atmosphere at the Rogers Centre when Shohei Ohtani makes his Toronto debut with the L.A. Dodgers, who will be in town for a three-game set.

Jilted fans will undoubtedly give Ohtani an earful, even though the same fans cheered the Japanese star when he suited up for the L.A. Angels last season.

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In Toronto, there’s this misplaced perception that Ohtani somehow left the Jays, and their fans, stranded at the altar during free agency.

Suffice to say the what-if, the what-could-have-been and the what-wasn’t-to-be will be relived and retold during Ohtani’s visit.

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BITTER TASTE LINGERS

In many ways, not much has changed with the team or how fans view this side.

When the Jays came up short of sweeping the Yankees, manager John Schneider referenced a sour taste knowing a win would have given the team a 7-2 homestand and the obvious sweep of a divisional rival.

Fans still have a sour taste following last year’s early exit in the wild card against the Twins, the inability to acquire a middle-of-the-order bat, with all due respect to Justin Turner, the failed flirtation of Ohtani, if a legitimate pursuit even existed, the horrible start to the season when the team’s beleaguered lineup was no-hit in Houston and nearly shutout the following day until Davis Schneider’s pinch-hit heroics.

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