The Blue Jays still need a fifth starter

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The Blue Jays’ Great Six-Man Rotation Experiment of 2016 has reached its natural end, and with it, the starting roles of Francisco Liriano and R.A. Dickey. The club is looking for one of the two to earn back their rotation spot as the season winds down, and with both Dickey and Liriano showing off their chops this weekend, it shouldn’t be difficult to cull the less-productive starter from the five-man rotation.

“Shouldn’t” is the operative word there, as Dickey’s start on Friday night was nothing less than flawless. After giving up 13 hits, four walks, and 10 runs over his last 10 innings pitched, Dickey tossed five frames of scoreless ball against the Angels, issuing one walk and striking out five in his 10th win of the year. It marked the seventh outing where Dickey has given up one or fewer runs, albeit not quite rising to the level of his eight-inning shutout back in May.

In most other respects, it’s been a down year for the 41-year-old. HIs 4.46 ERA is the highest it’s been in a full season since he pitched for the 2004 Rangers, and while his strikeouts are up by a full 3% in 2016, his walks and home runs have also shot up accordingly.

Liriano, likewise, is pitching through one of the worst seasons of his career, clocking in a -0.1 fWAR with a 5.36 ERA and a staggering 4.98 BB/9. He’s also pitching more to hard contact, with a 34.8% mark in 144 ⅔ innings, up 10 percentage points from a 24.3% hard contact rate with the Pirates in 2015.

Unlike Dickey, Liriano has already gained some experience out of the bullpen this season, to mixed results. He slotted in behind Marcus Stroman at the beginning of September, giving up a leadoff home run and RBI triple while failing to record an out in a 8-3 loss to the Rays. Against the Yankees, and covering for Dickey’s five-run meltdown, Liriano struck out three over two scoreless frames. He’s looked equally capable in a starting capacity, going 6 ⅓ innings during his last start with two runs, a walk, and six strikeouts.

While neither starter has produced outstanding results this season, they’ve both been solid enough over the last two weeks to make this a difficult decision for the Blue Jays. With two open spots left in Toronto’s schedule, one against the fourth-place Yankees and the other against the fellow wild card-contending Orioles, filling the No. 5 spot will depend heavily on how well Liriano handles the ball on Saturday.

Liriano is scheduled to make his next start against the Angels on Saturday at 9:05 PM EDT.