Looking to ease the burden on a young starting rotation slowing down as it approaches the finish line, the Toronto Blue Jays plan to give the crown jewel of their farm system a longer-than expected September audition.
Right-hander Kyle Drabek, a key part of the Roy Halladay trade last winter, is scheduled to make his big-league debut Wednesday at Baltimore, and is also slated to start Sept. 22 against Seattle and Sept 28 against the Yankees, both in Toronto.
Sunday's announcement by general manager Alex Anthopoulos comes two days after Drabek's double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats were eliminated from the Eastern League playoffs.
That club was expected to go deeper in the post-season, but once they were knocked out and with Drabek still having plenty in the tank, the 22-year-old became the obvious candidate to be added to the Blue Jays rotation.
It also gave the team a chance to make an early assessment of how much of a factor he'll be in competing for a job next spring, and a first big-league look at some of the return from the Halladay deal.
"We felt Kyle was certainly the most deserving of the group with the way he'd pitched," said Anthopoulos. "He really could have been promoted many times, but we wanted him to continue working on his changeup, working on his cut fastball, and he really rose to the occasion."
His addition means the Blue Jays will finish out the season with a much discussed six-man rotation, something manager Cito Gaston said last week he didn't think would be needed. But with Brandon Morrow already shut down and sophomore lefty Brett Cecil now fighting fatigue, the plans changed quickly.
Marc Rzepczynski starts Monday, Shawn Hill of Georgetown, Ont., on Tuesday, with Cecil pushed back from Wednesday to Friday. Ricky Romero and Shaun Marcum will follow Drabek.
Nothing, however, is carved in stone. Triple-A pitchers Brad Mills and Robert Ray are also around and may well be inserted into the rotation should someone falter, need time off or if the situation changes for the playoff contenders the Blue Jays face.
"It's fluid," said Anthopoulos. "We don't have a hard number on some of these guys, we continue to monitor them, we check their strength, we're trying to get through the season and win as many games as we can, and also try to maintain the competitiveness of the playoff races."
Drabek went 14-9 with a 2.94 earned-run average in 27 starts for New Hampshire, striking out 132 in 162 innings pitched. He threw 158 innings last year, so he should have a solid 20 or more left in him.
Just to make sure, Anthopoulos and his staff quizzed the Fisher Cats trainers, who said Drabek was still very strong and should have no issues logging some more work.
"It was important to us for him to pitch in a playoff atmosphere. He's done everything we've asked and his innings total is pretty much identical to last year," said Anthopoulos. "They didn't go as deep in the playoffs as we thought they might, so his innings were a little bit less.
"We did a good job toward the end skipping him and eliminating his innings a little bit and that left us a little bit more gas in the tank to end the season."
Drabek was acquired from the Phillies last December along with catcher Travis d'Arnaud and outfielder Michael Taylor, who was later sent to Oakland for Brett Wallace. The first baseman was then traded in July to Houston for centre-fielder Anthony Gose.
Both d'Arnaud and Gose finished the season in single-A.