Blue Jays give mysterious, touted free agency signing his first real shot

The time has come for Yariel Rodriguez to get the call. Now, he gets his chance to prove why he was worth such a large sum of money coming from overseas.
Dave Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The enigma of Yariel Rodriguez's role has been resolved, as he is set to make his major league debut as a starter this Saturday. The Cuban right-hander will temporarily replace Bowden Francis in the rotation and face off against the Rockies.

Despite not pitching professionally in 2023, the 26-year-old Rodriguez, who recently inked a five-year, $32 million contract, has proven himself worthy of this opportunity.

The Toronto Blue Jays officially promoted Rodriguez to the major leagues on Saturday morning and have sent right-hander Paolo Espino down to Triple-A Buffalo as the corresponding move.

While in Triple-A, Rodriguez impressed with two scoreless appearances, racking up 10 strikeouts across 6.1 innings. His pitching approach is marked by assertiveness, seen in his expressive mound demeanor and the intense gaze of his icy blue eyes that fix on the batters. Rodriguez exudes a palpable energy.

This marks the beginning of a strategy that could evolve in various ways over the next few months. For now, Rodriguez will start, but he might also transition into a more versatile role.

Yariel Rodriguez set to make Blue Jays debut: What's the long-term outlook?

Initially, the plan was to develop Rodriguez primarily as a starter. His career has included roles as a starter and a high-pressure relief pitcher in Japan, and after a year off in 2023 to enter free agency, he faces a unique challenge in adapting to different demands in the majors.

Throughout the season, the Blue Jays plan to carefully track Rodriguez using a comprehensive set of metrics, not just his innings pitched. His ability to adapt to various roles is viewed not as a limitation, but as a valuable asset by the organization. Looking ahead to 2025, they aim to have him as a regular starter, although the 2024 season may see him in various roles depending on team needs.

The immediate plan is to use Rodriguez as a starter and potentially adjust his role as other pitchers return from injuries or develop readiness, such as Alek Manoah on a rehabilitation start or top prospect Ricky Tiedemann.

During his last professional season in 2022 with Japan's Chunichi Dragons, Rodriguez pitched to a 1.15 ERA and accumulated 60 strikeouts over 54.2 innings, mainly in critical relief situations.

Rodriguez's debut as a starter in MLB is highly anticipated due to his diverse pitching background, which adds an element of unpredictability and potential to his career with the Blue Jays. The risk the team took by signing him could be outweighed by his significant potential to improve the team. As the season progresses, Rodriguez aims to secure his place among the top 13 pitchers on the roster, though some uncertainty still remains.