Bowden Francis Has Earned His Spot in the Blue Jays Rotation

After securing a spot in the rotation, Blue Jays right-hander Bowden Francis makes his first career start against the Astros on Monday.

DUNEDIN, FL - FEBRUARY 23: Bowden Francis #44 of the Toronto Blue Jays poses for a photo during the Toronto Blue Jays Photo Day at TD Ballpark on Friday, February 23, 2024 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

The Toronto Blue Jays enter the 2024 campaign with injury concerns amongst their pitching staff. The bullpen has taken a hit with Erik Swanson and Jordan Romano beginning the year on the IL with various arm issues that could keep them out for the next month.

Right-hander Alek Manoah is also behind in his spring training ramp-up due to shoulder inflammation. This injury could also keep him on the sidelines through April as he continues to get game-ready back in Dunedin.

While the top four rotation spots were already spoken for, the fifth rotation spot was Manoah’s for the taking if he rebounded well this spring after a dismal 2023 campaign and was healthy entering the year. Considering he’s currently on the IL and slated to miss the start of the season a few weeks ago, the spot was up for grabs amongst the Jays’ internal options and one pitcher took advantage of the opportunity.

Acquired in the summer of 2021 from the Milwaukee Brewers, right-hander Bowden Francis made his MLB debut with the Blue Jays in 2022 with just a single relief appearance. Last season, he played a much bigger role in the Jays’ bullpen.

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An injury to start the year kept him sidelined until mid-May but he still got in 66 1/3 innings on the year between both levels. Francis rode the options bus between Buffalo and Toronto and finished the campaign with 20 relief appearances and 36 1/3 innings with the big league squad.

Bowden Francis makes a strong impression during rookie campaign

Working as a middle reliever or in non-pressure situations for most of his rookie season, the Florida product amassed a 1.73 ERA with 11 games finished and the first save of his career, allowing just seven earned runs and eight walks while striking out 35.

He produced a 0.826 WHIP working in relief to the tune of a 2.0 BB/9 and an 8.7 K/9 while holding opponents to a .317 SLG and a .545 OPS. He allowed runs in just 30% of his outings and limited the damage to just one run in each contest except for one appearance against Baltimore in mid-June where he allowed two.

When Francis wasn’t pitching in the big leagues, the organization had him working as a starter down in Triple-A where he made seven starts (nine total appearances) and authored a 2.67 ERA through 27 innings for the Buffalo Bisons. Even when he was working in a different role down in Triple-A, he continued to hold the free passes to a minimum (2.3 BB/9) while striking out opposing batters at an impressive 14.0 K/9 clip.

With a repeatable delivery and the ability to pitch multiple innings, Francis worked with three different pitches last year, relying mostly on his mid-90s fastball while mixing in a slider and curveball to keep hitters off balance. This spring, Francis also added a splitter to his arsenal, which works well with his other three pitches, especially to left-handed batters.

Entering spring training, there were some question marks about Francis’s role with the club this season.

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The Jays wanted the 27-year-old to enter spring and work as a starter, meaning he was in the mix for the fifth rotation spot but was likely destined for Buffalo as starting depth if Manoah had earned his way back to the rotation. With Manoah’s ramp-up delayed due to his shoulder inflammation, Francis’s name was inserted into the mix and he took full advantage this spring.

Taking advantage of the opportunity

Through five outings (four starts), he pitched to a 3.38 ERA through 18 2/3 innings and allowed just seven earned runs with four walks. He continued to show his plus-command on the mound (1.9 BB/9) while striking out hitters at a 7.2 K/9 rate and generating weak contact against big leaguers while working a majority of the time as a starter and pitching at least 2+ innings in each of his outings.

Towards the end of spring training, it was announced that Francis had indeed earned the last rotation spot to start the year, beating out the likes of Wes Parsons, Mitch White, and non-roster invitee Paolo Espino. Now a member of the rotation, it wasn’t until this past Friday that it was announced that his first start of the year would come later today when the Blue Jays face the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.

There was a possibility the team would have Francis start the series finale against the Tampa Bay Rays yesterday but instead had Gausman take the mound, who like Manoah, was a bit delayed in his spring training ramp-up but was able to start the year not on the IL.

It will be a tough test for Francis even with the Astros starting the season on a sour note, a four-game sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees. Even with zero wins on the year, the Astros still boast some tough bats in Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker who can open up any game in a hurry if you leave mistakes pitches over the plate. Francis has also never faced the Astros before so this will be a new test for the right-hander in his first-ever big league start.

Francis has rightfully earned a spot in the Blue Jays rotation

After a strong 2023 season and an impressive showing this spring, Bowden Francis has rightfully earned the Blue Jays’ fifth rotation spot to start the year. It will now be on the Chipola College alum to keep his spot in the rotation for the rest of the campaign, with his first test of the year being the former AL West division champs.

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For now, it is his spot to lose and if he can carry over the success he found in Spring Training into the regular season, Francis will likely be a prominent member of the Blue Jays rotation for the bulk of the 2024 campaign.