June 2008

Riding the pine

MILWAUKEE — It’s another sunny day here with the dome open at Miller Park, but boy is it chilly. Noticeably colder than yesterday, so good thing I brought the ol’ sweatshirt to the ballpark to help battle the open pressbox.

Anyways, the Jays’ lineup had a noticeable omission for tonight’s game. Right fielder Alex Rios is on the bench, though manager John Gibbons said it was simply a way to get more left-handed bats in the order to counter hard-throwing righty Ben Sheets.

Gibbons said Rios being out had zilch to do with his 0-for-4 showing with three strikeouts in last night’s 7-0 loss to the Brews. Still, it’s worth noting — as we’ve been doing all year — that Mr. Rios just isn’t producing the way Toronto had hoped he would.

Over his last 42 games, Rios has hit .237/.284/.305 with no home runs and 11 RBIs, moving between the leadoff spot and the No. 3 hole. Whether he’s in the middle of the order or at the top, Toronto can ill afford to have Rios continue to perform this poorly.

If you ask me, Rios is the key to Toronto’s offense. He came into the year as arguably the Jays’ most potent hitter and definitely with what we thought was the most upside. He could still turn it around, and for the Jays’ sake, here’s hoping he does.

If Rios were producing as the power threat we all thought he’d be, Toronto’s offense might not be in such sour shape. Now, he’s hardly the lone hitter at fault here. But, especially with Rios struggling, there’s just no hitter to fear within the Jays’ lineup.

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (35-37) at MILWAUKEE (37-33)
at 8:05 p.m. ET at Miller Park

BLUE JAYS
Brad Wilkerson, LF
Joe Inglett, 2B
Scott Rolen, 3B
Matt Stairs, RF
Vernon Wells, CF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Gregg Zaun, C
David Eckstein, SS
Shaun Marcum, P

BREWERS
Craig Counsell, 2B
J.J. Hardy, SS
Ryan Braun, LF
Prince Fielder, 1B
Corey Hart, RF
Russell Branyan, 3B
Mike Cameron, CF
Jason Kendall, C
Ben Sheets, P

QUOTABLE: “What do you want me to do? Light a little fire?” –Gibbons, when asked his plan for turning the bats around

Milwaukee loves Lyle

MILWAUKEE — Tucked away in a display case inside the Brewers’ clubhouse is a base that was pulled from the field when Lyle Overbay set a Milwaukee franchise record for doubles in a season with 53 in 2004.

“Really?” said a smiling Overbay, when told the base was still in the stadium. “I may have to sneak off with that.”

The Milwaukee media were loving them some Lyle Overbay on his Reunion Tour to Milwaukee. His first trip back to ‘sconsin since being traded to the Jays prior to the 2006 season. So, who got the better of that five-player deal?

Overbay’s been hot and cold this year, was hurt all last year and was strong in 2006. Pitcher Ty Taubenheim — the othe player the Jays received in the deal — is currently 4-8 with a 4.98 ERA for the Pirates’ Triple-A squad.

The Jays sent Dave Bush, Zach Jackson and Gabe Gross to the Brew Crew. Gross is now with the Rays (sent in a trade earlier this year for a pitching prospect). Bush won 12 games in each of the past two years, but is 2-7 this year. Jackson is 1-5 for Milwaukee’s Triple-A team.

Gee, let’s call it even.

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (35-36) at MILWAUKEE (36-33)
at 8:05 p.m. ET at Miller Park

BLUE JAYS
Alex Rios, RF
Marco Scutaro, 2B
Scott Rolen, 3B
Vernon Wells, CF
Kevin Mench, LF
Rod Barajas, C
Lyle Overbay, 1B
David Eckstein, SS
Dustin McGowan, P

BREWERS
Craig Counsell, SS
Joe Dillon, 2B
Ryan Braun, LF
Prince Fielder, 1B
Corey Hart, RF
Russell Branyan, 3B
Mike Cameron, CF
Jason Kendall, C
Manny Parra, P

NOTES: 2B Aaron Hill is heading to Pittsburgh on Thursday to visit a concussion specialist. He’s still at least 10 days away from a return, and I’m being very optimistic with that assessment. … Jays skip John Gibbons weighed in on the A.J. Burnett would-accept-a trade-to-the-Cubs-“with-open-arms” ordeal, saying in response to the media’s reaction: “He said what he said. It can be interpreted any way you want it. A.J., he speaks his mind — he always has. It’s funny in this business, sometimes people like that and the media doesn’t think there’s enough of that anymore. When a guy does, that’s what happens. I don’t doubt his loyalties here — I don’t doubt that.”

Burnett eyeing future?

From today’s Chicago Sun-Times:

TORONTO — One day after beating the Cubs in Toronto, Blue Jays pitcher A.J. Burnett liked the idea of a trade to the Cubs so much he might as well have said, ”Please.”

”As of right now I’m a Blue Jay, and I’m going to pitch to the best of my ability as long as I’m part of this club,” he said. ”But if something were to happen and I’d have the opportunity to go to a place where baseball is breakfast, lunch and dinner, that would be awesome.

”Right now my focus is with this club, but if something like that were to happen, I’d accept it with open arms.”

With six weeks to go before the non-waiver trading deadline, the Cubs’ biggest need as they eye October is a veteran starting pitcher, preferably one capable of competing for a top-three spot in a playoff rotation.

A clear-cut frontline starter such as the Cleveland Indians’ C.C. Sabathia might not even be available, much less attainable. But second-tier guys such as Burnett — who has good-enough stuff to be a lightning-in-a-bottle find if he gets on a two-to-three-month roll — are expected to be out there.

Granted, Burnett (he can opt out of his contract and become a free agent after this season) covers himself by saying his focus right now is on the Jays, but I don’t know what his teammates might think about him publicly saying he wouldn’t mind a trade to Chicago. Thoughts?

Zaun activated

TORONTO — The Blue Jays activated catcher Gregg Zaun from the 15-day disabled list on Sunday and sent Curtis Thigpen back to Triple-A Syracuse. Someone asked manager John Gibbons if Thigpen was going to talk to “Voodoo” Joe Inglett about how to stay in the big leagues.

“We’ll get him on his flight as soon as possible before Joe can get ahold of somebody,” Gibbons said with a laugh.

Zaun was in the lineup as the DH, but Gibbons said having him catch is “a non-issue.” Zaun’s arm is feeling fine. Gibby was non-committal when asked about how he plans to divy out the playing time between Zaun and catcher Rod Barajas, saying, “We’ll just put the guy out there that we think can help us win that day.”

Vernon Wells was back in the lineup one day after leaving early with a sore left wrist — the same one he broke in May. Lyle Overbay was given the day off and Brad Wilkerson took over at first base. Gibbons liked Wilk vs. lefties and former Jays southpaw Ted Lilly is on the bump for the Cubbies.

Today’s lineups:

CHICAGO (44-25) at TORONTO (35-35)
at 1:07 p.m. ET at the Rogers Centre

CUBS
Reed Johnson, LF
Kosuke Fukudome, RF
Derrek Lee, DH
Aramis Ramirez, 3B
Jim Edmonds, CF
Geovany Soto, C
Mark DeRosa, 2B
Micah Hoffpauir, 1B
Ryan Theriot, SS

PITCHING: LHP Ted Lilly (6-5, 5.13)

BLUE JAYS
Alex Rios, RF
Marco Scutaro, 2B
Scott Rolen, 3B
Vernon Wells, CF
Kevin Mench, LF
Rod Barajas, C
Brad Wilkerson, 1B
Gregg Zaun, DH
John McDonald, SS

PITCHING: RHP Jesse Litsch (7-2, 3.42)

…really? Playing “Father of Mine” by Everclear during pregame? Don’t they realize that’s not exactly a heartwarming song to be playing on Father’s Day? Of course, as I type that, it’s promptly cut off. Nice.

Reediculous

TORONTO — I understand that the Toronto fan base loves Reed Johnson. He’s the type of player fans tend to love and, that being the case, I’m all for giving the guy a warm welcome this weekend in his first trip north since being released by the Jays and signed by the Cubs.

All that being said, the timing of his standing ovation by the Jays’ fans at Rogers Centre on Friday night was a little unsettling. With Toronto leading 3-2 in the ninth, Johnson came on as a pinch hitter and received a loud, prolonged standing o. In that situation, why were the fans cheering so loudly for a visiting player?

“You don’t see that too often,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “But hey, I’m happy for him, man. He did a great job here for this organization and was a fan favorite.”

Still, root for the man in a situation like this afternoon, when he’ll lead off the game for the Cubs. I’m not saying the fans should’ve booed him on Friday, but shouldn’t the cheers be reserved for the home team in that critical situation, especially when closer B.J. Ryan had been struggling some of late?

“I think we all think that he deserves it. No question,” said A.J. Burnett, downplaying the crowd’s ill-timed cheers.

But what if Johnson had homered to tie the game instead of groudning out to second? Would the crowd have gone nuts for Johnson then?

“That would be different,” Burnett said with a grin. “Good thing he hit it hard. Better for us he hit it right at somebody.”

On another note, talked to second baseman Aaron Hill this morning and he’s still fighting symptoms from the concussion he suffered on May 29. That being the case, a Minor League rehab stint this week seems unlikely. Hill said he’s still running into issues after light drills — not good. You can read the full story when it’s up on bluejays.com

Today’s lineups:

CHICAGO (43-25) at TORONTO (35-34)
at 1:07 p.m. ET at the Rogers Centre

CUBS
Reed Johnson, LF
Kosuke Fukudome, RF
Derrek Lee, 1B
Aramis Ramirez, DH
Jim Edmonds, CF
Mark DeRosa, 3B
Mike Fontenot, 2B
Henry Blanco, C
Ronny Cedeno, SS

PITCHING: RHP Jason Marquis (4-3, 4.54)

BLUE JAYS
Alex Rios, RF
Matt Stairs, DH
Scott Rolen, 3B
Vernon Wells, CF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Rod Barajas, C
Brad Wilkerson, LF
David Eckstein, SS
Joe Inglett, 2B

PITCHING: RHP Roy Halladay (8-5, 3.07)

Reed returns

TORONTO – I’m not going to lie. I wish this Jays-Cubs Interleague series was at Wrigley Field and not trapped under this dome. Either way, any little taste of Chicago I can get is always good and I saw a lot of Cub-jersey-clad fans outside the ballpark today.

Toronto fans in attendance will be disappointed to see Reed Johnson was not in the starting lineup. Where’t the love, Lou? Well, Johnson is only hitting .232 against righties this year and A.J. Burnett is on the hill (First start since his fantastic sarcastic hat tip to the booing fans. I had no problem with that, by the way — thought it showed a good sense a humor).

Us scribes piled into the visitors’ clubhouse to catch up with Reed and he’s doing great — not bitter in the least. Would you be bitter if you moved from a .500 club that is struggling to score to a team with the best record in baseball? Johnson described Chicago as “no place I’d rather be” and you’ve got to believe him.

The Ted Lilly-Toronto reunion will happen on Sunday. It’s also Lilly’s first stop in TO since his famous on-field donnybrook with manager John Gibbons. Other than the triumphant return of a couple ex-Jays, the only news here was the non-return of a few injured Jays. Aaron Hill is a few days away from maybe being cleared for a Minors rehab and Shannon Stewart is on his way to Florida to continue his rehab workouts.

Jeremy Accardo has suffered a setback in his rehab with Class A Dunedin and will be reevaluated in a couple days. Catcher Gregg Zaun has been rained out two days in a row, so he’ll suit up for Syracuse tomorrow and perhaps be activated Sunday or, probably more realistically, in time for Tuesday’s game in Milwaukee.

Today’s lineups:

CHICAGO (43-24) at TORONTO (34-34)
at 7:07 p.m. ET at the Rogers Centre

CUBS
Ryan Theriot, SS
Micah Hoffpauir, 1B
Derrek Lee, DH
Aramis Ramirez, 3B
Kosuke Fukudome, RF
Geovany Soto, C
Jim Edmonds, CF
Mark DeRosa, 2B
Eric Patterson, LF

PITCHING: RHP Sean Gallagher (3-2, 4.42)

BLUE JAYS
Alex Rios, RF
Matt Stairs, DH
Scott Rolen, 3B
Vernon Wells, CF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Rod Barajas, C
Brad Wilkerson, LF
Joe Inglett, 2B
David Eckstein, SS

PITCHING: RHP A.J. Burnett (5-6, 4.98)

Medical report

TORONTO – OK, so I’m a little behind here today. It’s the second inning and my blog isn’t live yet! Well, blame the Blue Jays and their game-time decisions. We had to wait a while to see if Vernon Wells (right ankle) and Alex Rios (back/groin) were able to play today.

Turns out they were considered go for launch and were still in Toronto’s lineup. Wells tweaked his ankle on a catch at the wall in the third inning on Monday and then when running across first base in the seventh. Rios said he tweaked his back during batting practice on Monday, but was feeling fine.

Also, it turns out that C Gregg Zaun won’t be activated on Wednesday after all. He’s going out on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Syracuse, DHing on Wednesday, catching on Thursday with the hope of coming off the DL Friday. 2B Aaron Hill (concussion) is another 5-6 days away from a rehab stint and LF Shannon Stewart (right ankle) has a Grade 2 sprain and will be out at least three weeks.

Oh, and the Jays signed their top pick from Thursday’s Draft, first baseman David Cooper (17th overall). Toronto agreed to terms with 27 of its draftees on Tuesday. Cooper will head to Auburn for starters with a ticket to Dunedin soon to come if he hits as well as he’s supposed to.

Today’s lineups:

SEATTLE (23-41) at TORONTO (33-33)
at 7:07 p.m. ET at the Rogers Centre

MARINERS
Ichiro Suzuki, CF
Jose Vidro, DH
Raul Ibanez, LF
Adrian Beltre, 3B
Jose Lopez, 2B
Jeremy Reed, RF
Richie Sexson, 1B
Jamie Burke, C
Yuniesky Betancourt, SS

PITCHING: RHP Carlos Silva (3-6, 5.96)

BLUE JAYS
Alex Rios, RF
Matt Stairs, DH
Scott Rolen, 3B
Vernon Wells, CF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Rod Barajas, C
Brad Wilkerson, LF
Joe Inglett, 2B
David Eckstein, SS

PITCHING: RHP Dustin McGowan (4-4, 4.26)

Minor matters

TORONTO — No, nothing happened to me. I heard there was some concern about my whereabouts over on Wilner’s blog. Fear not. I’m perfectly fine. I merely took a few days off to celebrate the ol’ anniversary with The Wife.

But, I’m back in Blue Jays land and apparently they played on without me. And they made a bunch of moves, too, huh. Only real updates today were that catcher Gregg Zaun is due back Wednesday as planned and there is no news concerning Shannon Stewart’s MRI, though GM J.P. Ricciardi did say Stew could be out a while. Doesn’t sound good.

Ricciardi was also asked what he thought of this year’s Blue Jays Draft class.

“It’s hard to tell. I’ll let you know in a couple years,” he replied with a smile.

As noted on draft day, David Cooper — Toronto’s first overall pick — is likely ticketed for Class A Auburn for starters. Considering he’s an advanced hitter, the Jays are hoping he doesn’t have to reside in the New York-Penn League for too long. In fact, if Coop plays well, he may skip by Lansing and head straight to high A Dunedin before the year’s up.

“He’d probably start in the Penn League, like we do with most of the guys,” Ricciardi said. “Then, if he progresses for maybe about a month, if he does well, we’d move him up to Dunedin. But he’s an advanced bat, so hopefully he’ll be able to get up there.”

See, I basically just paraphrased that quote. Also, in regards to catcher J.P. Arencibia — one of last year’s first-rounders — he won’t be in Dunedin much longer. All he’s done is hit .307 with 11 homers, 22 doubles, 56 RBIs and an .882 OPS in 55 games for the Class A Blue Jays.

“He’s getting close,” Ricciardi said, when asked if Arencibia was due for a promotion. “He’s got to go. There’s not much more he can do down there.”

Today’s lineups:

SEATTLE (22-41) at TORONTO (33-32)
at 7:07 p.m. ET at the Rogers Centre

MARINERS
Ichiro Suzuki, CF
Jose Vidro, DH
Raul Ibanez, LF
Adrian Beltre, 3B
Jose Lopez, 2B
Jeremy Reed, RF
Richie Sexson, 1B
Kenji Johjima, C
Yuniesky Betancourt, SS

PITCHING: LHP Jarrod Washburn (2-7, 6.56)

BLUE JAYS
Alex Rios, RF
Matt Stairs, DH
Scott Rolen, 3B
Vernon Wells, CF
Rod Barajas, C
Kevin Mench, LF
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Marco Scutaro, 2B
David Eckstein, SS

PITCHING: RHP Jesse Litsch (7-2, 3.45)

Road weary

NEW YORK — A reporter asked Blue Jays manager John Gibbons this morning if he had any theories about why Dustin McGowan has been so much better at home than on the road this year. Gibbons shrugged.

“It’s hard to figure that,” he said. “He’s been so good at home. I don’t know why that is.”

Gibbons then asked if we knew the numbers off-hand for McGowan’s career, noting that it was a similar situation last year. I quickly scooped up the Jays media guide off the desk and read the stat lines aloud. Here’s what they are, including this season:

CAREER AT HOME: 12-6 with a 3.31 ERA (3-1 with a 1.93 ERA in 2008)
CAREER ON ROAD: 6-13 with a 5.98 ERA (1-3 with a 5.68 ERA in 2008)

“So what the hell are we doing pitching him today?” said a chuckling Gibbons, to an eruption of laughter from those in the room.

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (32-29) at NEW YORK (29-30)
at 1:05 p.m. ET at Yankee Stadium

BLUE JAYS
Shannon Stewart, LF
David Eckstein, SS
Alex Rios, CF
Scott Rolen, 3B
Matt Stairs, DH
Lyle Overbay, 1B
Kevin Mench, RF
Rod Barajas, C
Joe Inglett, 2B

PITCHING: RHP Dustin McGowan (4-4, 3.95)

YANKEES
Johnny Damon, DH
Derek Jeter, SS
Bobby Abreu, RF
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Hideki Matsui, LF
Jorge Posada, C
Robinson Cano, 2B
Wilson Betemit, 1B
Melky Cabrera, CF

PITCHING: RHP Chien-Ming Wang (6-2, 4.14)

NOTES: CF Vernon Wells was due to begin his Minor League rehab assignment with Dunedin on Thursday night, serving as the DH for the Class A Blue Jays. Gibbons said Wells could maybe be back by the middle or end of next week, which would be about a week ahead of the minimum six weeks originally stated. … 2B Aaron Hill ws out of the lineup for the 6th game in a row and Gibbons didn’t rule out a possible DL stint, though he said the club was hoping Hill would be ready to play this weekend. … C Rod Barajas was back in the lineup a day after leaving with tightness in his lower back. … INF Marco Scutaro was given the day off to rest a sore right wrist, though it’s not considered serious.

Sans Hill…again

NEW YORK — Aaron Hill was still out of the lineup for the Blue Jays on Wednesday night. But, did you know that apparently it’s allowed for Toronto to use the same lineup two days in a row? Yeah, I know, I wasn’t sure if that was legal or not, either.

And get this, the lineup used tonight is actually the fourth time this particular lineup has been used this season. Of the 49 lineups used this season, that makes this starting nine tied for th emost often used order…and it’s without the Jays’ starting second baseman.

The other most often used lineup is the one that opened the season: 1. David Eckstein, SS, 2. Matt Stairs, LF, 3. Alex Rios, RF, 4. Vernon Wells, CF, 5. Frank Thomas, DH, 6. Lyle Overbay, 1B, 7. Aaron Hill, 2B, 8. Marco Scutaro, 3B, 9. Gregg Zaun, C. Remember that one?

Today’s lineups:

TORONTO (32-28) at NEW YORK (28-30)
at 7:05 p.m. ET at Yankee 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 Jesse Litsch (7-1, 3.18)

YANKEES
Johnny Damon, LF
Derek Jeter, SS
Bobby Abreu, RF
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Hideki Matsui, DH
Wilson Betemit, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Jose Molina, C
Melky Cabrera, CF

PITCHING: RHP Mike Mussina (8-4, 4.26)

NOTES: RHP Brian Wolfe was activated from the 15-day disabled list and optioned to Triple-A Syracuse; SS John McDonald began his rehab stint with Class A Dunedin and will need around a week, perhaps less, of games before returning to Toronto; Zaun played catch and hit prior to Wednesday’s game to further test his injured right elbow; Hill (concussion) took part in pregame drills.

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