May 2008

May flowers indeed

ANAHEIM — At the end of April, which was a terribly dismal month for these Blue Birds, a reporter asked manager John Gibbons if he was looking forward to turning the page on the opening month and moving on as soon as possible.

“May flowers,” replied Gibby, flashing his signature smirk.

Entering Saturday, the Jays were one win shy of matching their best showing ever in the season’s second month. Toronto is a big-league best 20-9 in May — one win behind the 2003 club record of 21 May victories. For May, the Jays’ arms lead the bigs with 20 wins, 14 saves, six shutouts, 234 strikeouts, a 2.91 ERA, 263 innings pitched and a .211 opponents’ average.

Toronto has moved five games over .500 for the first time since last September, has a winning record on the road and has pulled within three games of the American League East-leading Rays. The Jays have done all of this while dealing with injuries to shortstops David Eckstein and John McDonald center fielder Vernon Wells, catcher Gregg Zaun and a few relievers.

“What, are you going to ask me if I’m going to look forward to June?” Gibbons said with a laugh on Saturday.

Here’s to avoiding the ol’ June swoon.

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (31-26) at LOS ANGELES (32-24)
at 9:05 p.m. ET at Angel Stadium

BLUE JAYS
Shannon Stewart, LF
Marco Scutaro, 2B
Alex Rios, CF
Scott Rolen, 3B
Matt Stairs, DH
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Rod Barajas, C
Brad Wilkerson, RF
David Eckstein, SS

PITCHING: RHP Shaun Marcum (5-3, 2.64)

ANGELS
Reggie Willits, LF
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Garret Anderson, DH
Vladmir Guerrero, RF
Torii Hunter, CF
Casey Kotchman, 1B
Maicer Izturis, SS
Jeff Mathis, C
Rob Quinlan, 3B

PITCHING: RHP John Lackey (1-1, 2.05)

Present: Janssen. Absent: Hill.

ANAHEIM – I’m a little late to the party here, considering it’s already the bottom of the first inning here at Angel Stadium. But I had to hammer out a story on Casey Janssen before tending to the ol’ blog.

Janssen was on hand on Friday and was very much happy to be back around his fellow Jays. He’s still maybe a month or two away from throwing, and he’s sitting down with team trainers to discuss his throwing program on Saturday. You can read all about Janssen’s visit on bluejays.com in a bit.

Other news today was the absence of second baseman Aaron Hill. A day after saying he didn’t need to miss a game, Hill wasn’t even at the ballpark. Toronto manager John Gibbons said Hill — dazed by a mild concussion suffered during a collision with David Eckstein on Thursday — was still day-to-day and was given permission to stay at the team hotel.

That put Marco Scutaro in the lineup as the two-bagger. That makes five positions on four days for Mr. Scoot. In the series in Oakland, he started in games in left field, at shortstop and at first base and moved over to third base once. Now, enter second base — the spot he’s manned the most in his career.

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (30-26) at LOS ANGELES (32-23)
at 10:05 p.m. ET at Angel Stadium

BLUE JAYS
Shannon Stewart, LF
Marco Scutaro, 2B
Alex Rios, CF
Scott Rolen, 3B
Matt Stairs, DH
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Rod Barajas, C
Brad Wilkerson, RF
David Eckstein, SS

PITCHING: RHP Dustin McGowan (3-4, 3.90)

ANGELS
Maicer Izturis, SS
Gary Matthews Jr., LF
Vladimir Guerrero, RF
Garret Anderson, DH
Torii Hunter, CF
Casey Kotchman, 1B
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Brandon Moss, 3B
Mike Napoli, C

PITCHING: RHP Jered Weaver (4-5, 4.16)

Take a break, Doc

OAKLAND — Roy Halladay, fresh off eight innings of work the night before, was lounging at his locker on Thursday morning, looking for a throwing partner for a long-toss session. That dropped some jaws over on the couches, where a few of the relievers were sitting.

“You want to long toss after you threw 180 pitches yesterday?” closer B.J. Ryan said with a laugh. “Are you crazy?”

“I don’t feel it yet,” said Halladay, sans fatigue despite a Major League high 89 innings and five complete games.

“You’re not sore?” said an amazed Ryan. “I don’t want to long toss after throwing 18.”

Doc never ceases to amaze.

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (29-26) at OAKLAND (29-24)
at 3:37 p.m. ET at McAfee Coliseum

JAYS
Shannon Stewart, DH
Aaron Hill, 2B
Alex Rios, CF
Scott Rolen, 3B
Kevin Mench, LF
Marco Scutaro, 1B
Rod Barajas, C
Brad Wilkerson, RF
David Eckstein, SS

PITCHING: RHP Jesse Litsch (6-1, 3.57)

A’S
Jack Hannahan, 3B
Bobby Crosby, SS
Jack Cust, LF
Eric Chavez, DH
Emil Brown, RF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Daric Barton, 1B
Rob Brown, C
Rajai Davis, CF

PITCHING: LHP Dana Eveland

Zaun to DL; Thigpen called up

OAKLAND — Curtis Thigpen arrived from Triple-A Syracuse today, looking quite dapper in a gray suit and sporting a shaggy hairdo that would make the Jonas Brothers proud. After Thigpen walked around to saying his hellos, Jays skip John Gibbons was asked what the reaction would’ve been had any players strolled in with that type of hairstyle back in his day.

“Nobody would’ve walked in with a haircut like that. So it’s a moot point,” Gibbons said, laughing heartily. “Maybe since he was coming to San Francisco, he figured he had to do something special.”

All kidding aside, the trendy Mr. Thigpen, whose look would’ve impressed the Star’s Cathal Kelly, was in the Jays’ clubhouse because catcher Gregg Zaun is on the 15-day disabled list with inflammation in his right elbow. The injury’s not considered serious, but Toronto can’t go forward with only one catcher available.

So, for now, Rod Barajas is the No. 1 and Thig is the No. 2. Robinzon Diaz might’ve been called up, but he’s injured as well. Zaun said he’ll stay away from baseball stuff for the next few days, but he believes it shouldn’t take long to get back to full strength. He’s hoping to be ready to return on June 11 — his first day eligible.

TORONTO (28-26) at OAKLAND (29-23)
at 10:07 p.m. ET at McAfee Coliseum

JAYS
Shannon Stewart, LF
Aaron Hill, 2B
Alex Rios, CF
Scott Rolen, 3B
Matt Stairs, DH
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Marco Scutaro, SS
Brad Wilkerson, RF
Rod Barajas, C

PITCHING: RHP Roy Halladay

A’S
Jack Hannahan, 3B
Bobby Crosby, SS
Jack Cust, LF
Mike Sweeney, DH
Ryan Sweeney, CF
Emil Brown, RF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Daric Barton, 1B
Kurt Suzuki, C

PITCHING: RHP Rich Harden

Monkey business

OAKLAND — Frank Thomas came out of the A’s clubhouse and onto the field here at McAfee Coliseum today and was greeted by a singing, dancing gorilla, who showered the Big Hurt with confetti and left him with the words: “Don’t get mad, get even.”

The gorilla was courtest of Thomas’ wife and kids in honor of his 40th birthday. Just the Jays luck that they’d land in Oakland for the big Thomas-Toronto reunion on his big day, huh. “Hopefully, he doesn’t have a flair for the dramatic,” Jays manager John Gibbons quipped.

You can read all about Thomas’ words of wisdom on bluejays.com in a bit. The news of the day is: David Eckstein is off the DL, Hector Luna is back in Triple-A, and Gibby intends on keeping Marco Scutaro in the lineup somehow, some way. Today, Scoot was in left field. Eck will probably have some days off in the early goings, giving Marco some more starts there.

Saw the new Indiana Jones at the Drive-in theater in downtown Toronto on Sunday night and I’d say it ranks third among the four — behind Raiders/Last Crusade and ahead of Temple. Watched Charlie Wilson’s War on the plan and was pleasantly surprised. Saw Iron Man in SF last night and thoroughly enjoyed it, though I was more pumped after seeing the newest trailor for The Dark Knight.

Back to baseball…

TORONTO (28-25) at OAKLAND (28-23)
at 10:07 p.m. ET at McAfee Coliseum

JAYS
Shannon Stewart, DH
Aaron Hill, 2B
Alex Rios, CF
Scott Rolen, 3B
Rod Barajas, C
Kevin Mench, RF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Marco Scutaro, LF
David Eckstein, SS

PITCHING: RHP A.J. Burnett

A’S
Jack Hannahan, 3B
Bobby Crosby, SS
Jack Cust, LF
Frank Thomas, DH
Ryan Sweeney, CF
Emil Brown, RF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Daric Barton, 1B
Kurt Suzuki, C

PITCHING: RHP Greg Smith

Pain in the neck

TORONTO – Well, Matt Stairs is over his stiff neck problem and back in the Blue Jays’ lineup as the designated hitter in the fifth spot. I, on the other hand, have a kink in the right side of my neck that started after my long run along the lakefront last night. Go figure.

Shannon Stewart is back in the leadoff spot for the third straight game. This season, he’s led off in six games and has hit .286 with a .448 OBP in those contests. Since Vernon Wells went down with his left wrist injury on May 9, Stewart has hit .318/.404 in 13 games.

And I’m getting goosebumps just thinking abou Lyle Overbay’s first at-bat tonight. If he gets a hit, or is plunked by the pitch or draws a walk he will have reached base in a franchise record 12 straight plate appearances! Overbay is currently tied with Tony Fernandez’s 1999 record of 11. Can you feel the excitement? All kidding side, that’s a pretty solid feat.

Today’s lineups:

KANSAS CITY (21-28) at TORONTO (26-25)
at 1:07 p.m. ET at Rogers Centre

ROYALS
David DeJesus, LF
Esteban German, 2B
Alex Gordon, 3B
Jose Guillen, DH
Billy Butler, 1B
John Buck, C
Ross Gload, RF
Tony Pena, SS
Joey Gathright, CF

PITCHING: RHP Gil Meche

BLUE JAYS
Shannon Stewart, LF
Aaron Hill, 2B
Alex Rios, CF
Scott Rolen, 3B
Matt Stairs, DH
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Marco Scutaro, SS
Brad Wilkerson, RF
Rod Barajas, C

PITCHING: RHP Dustin McGowan

UPDATE: It’s just past midnight and I’m packing my bags for Cali. Won’t be at the ballyard tomorrow — I’m leaving on a jetplane. Catch you all from the Coast on Tuesday.

Doctor, Doctor

TORONTO — Oh, those Blue Jays are such jokesters. Walked into Toronto’s clubhouse after Friday night’s game and sitting on an exercise bike in the middle of the room was a plastic skeleton dressed in Jesse Carlson’s uniform. A nice prank to pull on Carlson, who in case you hadn’t noticed, is quite thin.

With skeletal systems in mind, here’s your Saturday afternoon medical report:

VERNON WELLS: Had the brace removed from his broken left wrist on Friday and he put on his glove on Saturday and shagged fly balls during pregame BP. He’s started doing hand/forearm exercises and is due to head south to Florida for further rehab, beginning Monday.

DAVID ECKSTEIN: Went 1-for-3 with a run scored as the shortstop for Class A Dunedin on Friday night and was due for another rehab appearance on Saturday. Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi said Eckstein was on target to be activated from the DL on Tuesday, if everything goes according to plan.

JOHN MCDONALD: Took BP on the field on Saturday and could be seen jogging around on his sprained right ankle. Still, Ricciardi said it’s been a slower comeback than Eckstein and there’s no timetable for Mac’s return. On Monday, he’ll also head to Florida was Minor League games to follow soon.

BRIAN WOLFE: Remember him? On the DL with a right triceps strain on April 17 and finally due to appear in a Minors game with Class A Dunedin come Sunday. Still no word on a return date.

JEREMY ACCARDO: Landed on the DL with a right forearm strain on May 10, the same day Wells broke his left wrist. Ricciardi noted that Accardo was set to resume playing catch today. Bullpen sessions and sim games are down the road.

MATT STAIRS: Still out with a stiff neck — three games now. Saw Stairs in the clubhouse today and he said, “It’s feeling better.” Skip John Gibbons wasn’t sure if Stairs was available off the bench, even if it’s a tie game in the 15th inning with the bases juiced and a righty on the mound: “Maybe,” Gibbons said.

Today’s lineups:

KANSAS CITY (21-27) at TORONTO (25-25)
at 1:07 p.m. ET at Rogers Centre

ROYALS
David DeJesus, LF
Mark Grudzielanek, 2B
Alex Gordon, 3B
Jose Guillen, DH
Mark Teahen, RF
Billy Butler, 1B
John Buck, C
Tony Pena, SS
Joey Gathright, CF

PITCHING: RHP Luke Hochevar

BLUE JAYS
Shannon Stewart, DH
Aaron Hill, 2B
Alex Rios, CF
Scott Rolen, 3B
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Brad Wilkerson, RF
Marco Scutaro, SS
Gregg Zaun, C
Joe Inglett, LF

PITCHING: RHP Jesse Litsch

Hurt no more

TORONTO — On my walk to the ol’ ballyard this afternoon, saw a crew finally removing the gigantic Frank Thomas poster from the windows on the south side of the Rogers Centre. Rumor has it that Alex Rios will soon be replacing the Big Hurt.

With Thomas officially taken down, it seems like a good time to check in with the future Hall of Famer and how he’s faring over in Oaktown:

Since joining the A’s: .282 average with three home runs and 14 RBIs in 24 games.

The Jays have used nine different players as the designated hitter this season — most recently Mighty Joe Inglett. Entering Friday’s game against the Royals, Toronto’s DHs had combined for 18 runs (11th in the American League), six homers (ninth), 23 RBIs (ninth), a .220 average (10th), a .311 on-base percentage (ninth), a .363 slugging percentage (.11th) and 61 total bases (12th).

Those numbers aren’t so hot. Then again, those figures all include Thomas, who labored in the season’s early going as Toronto’s regular DH. On Friday, Kevin Mench started at DH against the Royals, making his first appearance among the starting nine since bruising his right knee by running into a wall on Friday.

Matt Stairs — Toronto’s current primary DH — was still out with a stiff neck, meaning Inglett got the nod again, but this time as the right fielder. David Eckstein (strained right hip flexor) DHed in his rehab appearance with Class A Dunedin on Thursday night, but was due to man shortstop on Friday. He could be back as soon as Monday, when shortstop John McDonald (sprained right ankle) might begin his Minor League rehab.

Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells could be on his way to Florida on Monday as well to begin rehabbing his broken right wrist. He’s still a ways off from thinking about playing in a game, though. Without further adieu, here are…

Today’s lineups:

KANSAS CITY (21-26) at TORONTO (24-25)
at 7:07 p.m. ET at Rogers Centre

ROYALS
David DeJesus, RF
Mark Grudzielanek, 2B
Alex Gordon, 3B
Jose Guillen, LF
Mark Teahen, 1B
Billy Butler, 1B
Miguel Olivo, C
Tony Pena, SS
Joey Gathright, CF

PITCHING: RHP Zach Greinke

BLUE JAYS
Shannon Stewart, LF
Aaron Hill, 2B
Alex Rios, RF
Scott Rolen, 3B
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Kevin Mench, DH
Gregg Zaun, C
Marco Scutaro, SS
Joe Inglett, RF

PITCHING: RHP Roy Halladay

COUNT ‘EM: The Jays have used 42 different lineups in 50 games

New Team Motto?

TORONTO — Could “Hang tough” be the new unofficial team slogan for these Blue Jays? For the second time this season, one A.J. Burnett had the New Kids on the Block 1989 hit “Hangin’ Tough” as his pregame warmup music.

Following his start on Thursday night, after reporters breezed through the usual question-answer session about Burnett’s outing, the Globe’s Jeff Blair got right to the point — right to the REAL question on everyone’s mind.

“Is there a story behind New Kids on the Block?”

Burnett chuckled and said:

“I was just looking for something different. I found it. It was actually just a joke that me and B.J. decided to come out with something and he suggested that. We’ve stuck with it. Why not? Because we’re hangin’ tough right now. We’re going to get on a roll here soon and hopefully sooner than later. Hang tough.”

Burnett said this with all seriousness, though with a smirk the entire time. Over on the other side of the clubhouse, Jays closer B.J. Ryan quickly dismissed being the influence behind Burnett’s song choice:

“That was not my suggestion,” said Ryan, laughing and shaking his head. “That was all him. I might’ve encouraged him from the peanut gallery.”

Burnett’s also sporting a mohawk these days with some zigzag designs buzzed into the shorter hair on the sides of his head. One reporter pointed out that his ‘do wasn’t really a New Kids kind of look.

“Yeah, it’s more Vanilla Ice.”

What decade is this again?

Numbers game

TORONTO – I’ve got nothing. That being the case, I’m going to just throw some stats out here to fill some space on the blog today. That’s how exciting life is at Rogers Centre these days.

THE GOOD

  • Since taking over at short for Davohn EckDonald, Marco Scutaro has hit .333 with a .414 on-base percentage in 15 games
  • Aaron Hill entered Thursday riding a season-high nine-game hitting streak, over which he’s hit .394 with four multi-hit games
  • Catcher Rod Barajas has an eight-game hitting streak, over which he’s hit .423 with two homers and seven RBIs
  • Among American League rotations, the Jays lead in innings (301 1/3), complete games (four) and are second in strikeouts (233) and opponents’ batting average (.236)
  • The Jays bullpen leads the AL with a 3.09 ERA. Lefty Brian Tallet has not allowed a run in 10 straight outings (11 innings)
  • Catcher Gregg Zaun has reached base safely in 28 of his 32 starts this season
  • Seven of Lyle Overbay’s last 15 hits have gone for extra bases

THE BAD

  • The Jays are 10-11 at home and have lost their past three at Rogers Centre. In those three losses, have hit just .156 with runners in scoring position and have stranded 33 runners
  • Jays are dead last in the Majors with a .221 average with runners in scoring position and rank 24th with a .212 average with RISP with two outs
  • With men on third base, the Jays own a .200 average and with men on third with two outs are batting just .160
  • The Jays’ batters have struck out 270 times (third-fewest in the AL) and have drawn 178 walks (fourth-most in the AL), but have grounded into a Major League-leading 58 double plays and have collected a Major League-low 111 extra-base hits

THE UGLY

  • Vernon Wells broke his left wrist on May 9 and subsequently landed on the disabled list and is potentially out until around the All-Star break. Even so, here on May 22, he STILL leads the Jays with 24 RBIs. The next closest Jays are Alex Rios and Aaron Hill with 18. Amazing.

Ah, there it is again: “Hangin’ Tough” by the New Kids on the Block as A.J. Burnett’s warm-up music. Unbelievable. Oh, Matt Stairs is out with a stiff neck, leaving Joe Inglett with the DH duties today out of the nine hole in the lineup. Kevin Mench (bruised right knee) is still out, but available off the bench, if needed, said skip John Gibbons.

Today’s lineups:

LOS ANGELES (28-20) at TORONTO (23-25)
at 7:07 p.m. ET at Rogers Centre

ANGELS
Maicer Izturis, SS
Gary Matthews Jr., DH
Vladimir Guerrero, RF
Garret Anderson, LF
Torii Hunter, CF
Casey Kotchman, 1B
Jeff Mathis, C
Brandon Wood, 3B
Sean Rodriguez, 2B

PITCHING: RHP Ervin Santana

BLUE JAYS
Brad Wilkerson, RF
Aaron Hill, 2B
Alex Rios, RF
Scott Rolen, 3B
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Shannon Stewart, LF
Rod Barajas, C
Marco Scutaro, SS
Joe Inglett, DH

PITCHING: RHP A.J. Burnett

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