TORONTO — Jacob Waguespack entered Wednesday night’s start coming off nothing short of a triumph.
The lanky right-hander had silenced the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers over seven one-hit innings to bring his ERA down to an excellent 3.26. With Trent Thornton struggling, he looked like the young pitcher to watch on the Blue Jays right now — which to be fair isn’t a wildly impressive title. While Waguespack fever wasn’t exactly sweeping the nation, optimism had begun to build.
That buildup was stalled, at least momentarily, on Wednesday as the rookie lasted just three innings in a 9-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves. He allowed five runs in the outing — although only three of them were earned thanks to a brutal Vladimir Guerrero Jr. error.
“From the beginning he wasn’t sharp,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “He wasn’t himself today. It was easy to see early on. Somehow he got out of the first inning, but he really wasn’t sharp.”
Everything about the outing was off from the game plan down. One of the reasons Waguespack has intrigued so far is that he boasts a legitimate six-pitch repertoire that includes a four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter, changeup, slider, and curveball. Against the Braves, he seemed to fixate on his hard stuff, specifically his cutter — which didn’t allow his unpredictability to play up.
Leaning on a single offering if it’s really working is no crime, but it’s safe to say it wasn’t working. Waguespack filled the middle of the plate with the pitch or threw it too far outside the zone to be competitive.
There were a couple of particularly rough examples in the Braves’ five-run second inning as Waguespack threw total meatballs to both Raphael Ortega and Ronald Acuna Jr.
Both the former ...
... and the latter ...
... cranked them for RBI doubles.
It would be unfair to say everything Waguespack threw was in the middle of the plate, but during that second inning he filled up the danger zone repeatedly:
Now, one bad outing from a rookie pitcher should not change opinions about him too significantly. Even the best young pitchers get lit up from time to time. However, the expectations he’d built might have been a touch unreasonable.
This outing represents an opportunity to reset them a little bit.
Waguespack is a guy without overpowering stuff or prospect pedigree who will turn 26 this year. In Triple-A this season he posted a 5.30 ERA with a 5.41 FIP to match. Both his FIP (4.26) and xFIP (4.91) coming into Wednesday suggested he’s been a touch lucky so far — especially when Statcast really doesn’t like his contact management skills, or spin rate for that matter:
Because of his recent work, there were those inclined to pencil Waguespack into the Blue Jays rotation for 2020. That’s largely due to a lack of known alternatives, but even so it would be premature to consider the right-hander a frontrunner. On Wednesday he showed precisely why.
That doesn’t mean there’s no chance he excels down the stretch and puts himself in a pole position — becoming the kind of “great story” the Blue Jays front office is hoping will help them fill out a rotation. He’s already a heck of a story as an undrafted player who’s made it this far.
Waguespack will have to beat the odds to carve out a major role in this team’s future, though. Luckily for the right-hander, beating the odds is his bread and butter.
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