TORONTO - Highly touted free agent Yariel Rodriguez is set to make his Major League Baseball debut for the Toronto Blue Jays.

The right-handed pitcher was recalled by the Blue Jays from their triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, N.Y., on Saturday morning, hours before Toronto hosted the Colorado Rockies. Rodriguez was the Blue Jays starting pitcher in the game, although Toronto manager John Schneider said the 26-year-old Cuban would be limited to approximately 70 pitches.

“He's a damn good pitcher and we're just looking to see him do his thing and compete,” said Schneider in his office before the game. “He's coming right after you, against an aggressive team, so no real expectations, just kind of anxious to see him get going.”

Long reliever Paolo Espino was optioned to the triple-A Bisons in a corresponding move.

Rodriguez agreed to a US$32-million, five-year contract with the Blue Jays in the off-season. He has pitched as a starter and a reliever in top leagues in Cuba and Japan.

He has not allowed a run in 6 1/3 innings as a starting pitcher for Buffalo this season, striking out 10 over his two starts.

His last full baseball season was in 2022 when he had a 6-2 record as a reliever for the Chunichi Dragons in the Japan Central League with a 1.15 earned-run average over 56 appearances as a reliever.

“He's well travelled, for sure, and has seen different ways that the game is played,” said Schneider. “I think he combines a little bit of everything between his delivery, the way he pitches.

“He's got a little bit of everything kind of coming at you.”

The 37-year-old Espino has a 7.71 ERA in two appearances for Toronto this season, striking out two over 4 2/3 innings. His demotion comes a day after he gave up four runs on six hits in 2 2/3 innings in a 12-4 loss to Colorado. Schneider said that Espino was professional when he was told he was being demoted.

“He's been around forever and when we talked to him this morning, he gets that it's part of the game,” said Schneider. “I don't think that there's a mean bone in his body.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 13, 2024.