Blue Jays right-hander Marco Estrada has seen his effectiveness decline in the season’s second half, and Jon Morosi of FOX Sports and MLB.com sheds some light on his struggles, reporting that Estrada has been pitching through a herniated disk in his back (Twitter link). Estrada has previously received cortisone injections in his lower back this season, though at the time, he was only reported to be dealing with inflammation.
Originally acquired by the Blue Jays after the 2014 season in a trade that sent Adam Lind to the Brewers, the now-33-year-old Estrada broke out with a career year in 2015 and re-signed in Toronto on a two-year, $26MM pact this offseason. The first half of the season looked to be a continuation of Estrada’s excellence, as he pitched to a 2.93 ERA with a 99-to-39 K/BB ratio in 104 1/3 innings of work, but he’s stumbled to a 5.47 ERA since the All-Star break as his home run rate has increased and his average innings per start has decreased. Estrada has completed six innings just twice in his past eight starts and, overall, has averaged fewer than 5 1/3 innings per start since the Midsummer Classic.
It’s not yet clear how (or if) the Blue Jays plan to address the injury in-season. Estrada surrendered four runs in 5 1/3 innings last night but is still listed as the team’s probable starter when his spot in the rotation arises again on Sept. 19 in Seattle. But, Estrada’s condition certainly represents another rotation problem for a Blue Jays team that has made a well-publicized effort to limit Aaron Sanchez’s innings and is currently deploying a six-man rotation.
Liriano, Sanchez and Estrada are joined in the starting corps right now by J.A. Happ, Marcus Stroman and R.A. Dickey, so certainly the team has the depth to put together a solid playoff rotation even if Estrada isn’t well enough to be a part of it. However, getting to the postseason, at this point, isn’t a given. The Jays currently hold the second Wild Card spot in the American League and trail the Red Sox by two games in the division (with the Orioles one game up on Toronto as well). The Blue Jays largely control their own destiny, though, as their final six games of the regular season will be a three-game home set against the Orioles before traveling to Fenway for their final three contests.