Starting pitchers nearing full strength

Starting pitchers nearing full strength

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays had a couple of big pieces return to their lineup last week. Next up: The starting rotation.

Left-hander J.A. Happ is set to return from the disabled list in time to start Tuesday night's game against the Reds. Fellow lefty Francisco Liriano should be back a few days later.

Aaron Sanchez is still not close to returning, but with four-fifths of the rotation back in the fold, there's finally a light at the end of the tunnel. This team was built around its starters, somehow survived without the majority of the staff intact, and will now look to go on a run.

"We're getting closer," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "We have [Josh] Donaldson and [Troy] Tulowitzki back, that's big. Now if we can get that rotation rolling. They've been beat up. This is kind of what we envisioned. It should definitely help us."

Even though Happ is set to return Tuesday, that does not mean he will be throwing without limitations. Far from it. In an ideal world, Happ would have received another rehab start before coming back, but a lack of viable alternatives forced the Blue Jays' hands.

Happ's lone official rehab appearance came on May 25, when he allowed three runs on seven hits over three innings for Class A Advanced Dunedin. His pitch count only got up to 56, and considering he hasn't started a big-league game since April 16, tempered expectations are in order. Even so, four innings or so from Happ might be more than the club could have expected out of Minor League options such as Mat Latos or T.J. House.

"We'll watch him. We'll kind of see how he's going, but I don't want to put a number on it just yet," Gibbons said of a possible pitch count. "But it'll be good to get him back out there because we felt like we could probably get as much out of him, we hope, instead of bringing somebody up and going that way."

Liriano got a little deeper into the game during his lone rehab appearance. The 33-year-old allowed two earned runs on three hits over 4 1/3 innings for Triple-A Buffalo on Sunday night and threw 48 of his 72 pitches for strikes. Liriano also hasn't been out nearly as long as Happ, with his last appearance coming on May 10, so it should not take long to build him up.

Mike Bolsinger will make what is expected to be his final start for the Blue Jays on Wednesday. Toronto then has the ability to slot Liriano into a start against the Yankees on Friday night, which would give Marcus Stroman and Joe Biagini an extra day of rest. The Blue Jays have yet to officially decide exactly when Liriano will pitch next, but that seems to be the likeliest course of action.

"He felt really good yesterday," Gibbons said of Liriano. "[Friday] would be Biagini's day and of course [Stroman's] day would be Saturday. If we wanted to give somebody an extra day, we could do that and slot everybody in there. All indications are he'll pitch for us. We haven't made [a day] definite yet, but I don't see why not."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.