April 2010

Covering the Bases: Game 24

gonezo.jpgFIRST: OK, now be honest, who had Alex Gonzalez launching seven home runs in the first month of the season for the Blue Jays?

Anyone?

Didn’t think so.

Gonzalez has had decent power totals over the course of his career (23 in 2004, 18 in ’03, even 16 as recent as ’07), but the 33-year-old shortstop had knee issues in recent seasons and launched all of eight homers over 112 games a year ago.

Gone-zo hit two homers in Friday’s 10-2 win over the A’s, giving him seven on the year.

The Blue Jays even billed the one-year signing of Gonzalez as a way to bring in a Gold Glove-caliber defender. Any kind of offense would be a bonus. Well, consider this first month — a club record for home runs by a Jays shortstop — a major bonus for Toronto.

SECOND: Vernon Wells was quick to say that what Gonzalez is doing right now is unbelievable: “I just look at him and shake my head sometimes.” While discussing Gonzalez, Wells broke into a smile and laughed.

“He tells me to look out, because he’s right behind me,” Wells said.

Said Gonzalez…

“That’s what I told him in the dugout,” he said, grinning. “I said, ‘I’m coming behind you. Watch out.’ It’s just, you make it fun during the game.”

Obviously, Gonzalez is having fun with this while it lasts, too.

Wells launched a two-run homer in Friday’s win over Oakland, picking up career blast No. 200. After the game, Jays manager Cito Gaston presented Wells with the baseball that was hit for the milestone shot. Wells’ two RBIs also moved him past Geroge Bell for second on the club’s all-time list.

Wells said he’ll appreciate such moments after his career is over.

“When I’m done, it’ll be neat,” he said.

THIRD: Let’s step away from the long balls for a moment, shall we?

Gonzalez and Wells got all the postgame love, and will surely be the focus in all the Toronto papers (and on bluejays.com), but right-hander Brandon Morrow also turned in a solid outing for Toronto. Morrow worked six innings, struck out nine and limited the damage to two runs after allowing seven hits and two walks.

A few starts ago, pitching coach Bruce Walton worked with Morrow on lowering his arm slot. It’s still a work in progress, but Morrow is getting more comfortable with the change and has looked better over his past three outings.

“My arm’s been feeling really good,” Morrow said. “Those little tweaks we made a few starts ago, I’m starting to get more comfortable with it. My release point has been really good out of the stretch. It’s getting there out of the windup, getting more consistent. And my slider’s been great.”

HOME: OK, back to the home runs to wrap this up. The Blue Jays have belted a Major League-high 35 homers, producing 53 runs in the process. That accounts for 48.2 percent of the runs Toronto has scored this season. The team average is down, as are the walks and on-base percentage, while the strikeouts are aplenty.

Basically, the Jays are what the are — a team based on power. All-er-nothin’.

Wells had this to say about it…

“It’ll be difficult to keep this pace up. We need to start scoring runs in some different ways.”

~JB

Covering the Bases: Game 23

BuckPie.jpgFIRST: So, maybe a few of the Blue Jays hitters should take part in some extra-early batting practice from now on.

Early this afternoon, when the lights were low and the stadium was empty, John Buck took to the field with manager Cito Gaston, hitting coach Dwayne Murphy and pitching coach Bruce Walton.

Walton threw. Murphy advised. Gaston observed and offered his two cents as well. The goal? To get Buck’s timing back on track.

Um, it worked a little.

Buck slammed three home runs in a 6-3 win over the A’s that felt like a rout even though the difference was just three runs. Buck victimized Justin Duchscherer, Jerry Blevins and Craig Breslow to become the 15th Blue Jay to belt at least three homers in a game in franchise history.

There weren’t many fans here tonight — announced attendance of 10,721 — but those in the stands began chanting, “Buck! Buck!” during his final at-bat. Alas, Carlos Delgado remains the lone Jay to launch a quartet of moonshots in a single contest.

Buck might have a few more early sessions in his future.

“I might as well. I’ll do it every day if I’ll get those results,” he joked.

SECOND: Had Buck not dominated the storyline tonight, we might have been writing more about the solid effort from Ricky Romero. He did not look sharp early, allowing three runs on four hits in the first three innings. Then he settled in and managed to log six innings, giving Buck time to do his damage

Buck was impressed with how Romero battled his way through six frames.

“I think that’s a really good thing on Ricky’s part,” Buck said. “Normally he’s able to go out there and just be nasty. Tonight his changeup didn’t have that bit — they got a coupld early hits on that. I told Ricky, ‘You’ve just got to pitch.’ It was like he felt too good.

He made the adjustment right away and did a real good job. I was really, really proud of him, the way he was just able to go out there and pitch.”

THIRD: Another player lost in the wake of Buck’s wallops was Travis Snider. Like Buck, Snider has been fighting through a month-long slump. Like Buck, Snider homered on Thursday. Snider just didn’t go yard two more times.

Following Buck’s solo shot in the third inning, Snider crushed a pitch from Duchscherer to right field for a rocket of a home run. Or, as Cito put it…

“That missile got out of here in a hurry,” Gaston said. “Then Buck came back and put one off the restaurant.”

Yeah, that one was crushed. Off the windows of the restaurant in center field.

Oh, wait. I was talking about Snider. Right. Anyways…

Snider finished 2-for-4 with that homer and a double. The Jays can only hope that gets him jump-started.

HOME: OK, I’ve always got to play Debbie Downer at least once, right? Well, the A’s led 3-0 after three, but had it not been for a “wild pitch” from Romero it would’ve likely been just a two-run advantage. Buck did not properly block a pitch and it skipped away. There have been a few of those this year.

But, Buck made up for it. Three times. So, all’s forgiven.

~JB

Covering the Bases: Game 22

Hillbat.jpgFIRST: Jon Lester. I mean, what else is there to say after that 2-0 stinker against the Red Sox, really?

Seven innings. One hit. 11 strikeouts.

Blue Jays: baffled.

“That’s the best I’ve seen him,” said Aaron Hill. “He just absolutely dominated us tonight — that’s the bottom line.”

That said…

“You don’t want to give him too much credit, because he’s an opposing pitcher,” Hill added. “There’s no excuse for a one-hit, two-hit — whatever it was.”

And that’s more to the point, because it hasn’t just been Lester. The Jays have now gone 17 innings without a run, their longest skid since being blanked 31 frames in a row from May 9-12, 2008.

This after Toronto pounded out 12 runs on 16 hits in a loss to the Sox on Monday night. Jays have now dropped five games in a row and are in fourth place in the East.

Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston always has a way of sifting through the wreckage and pulling out the positives…

“The way we’re losing is certainly not as bad as you think,” Gaston said. “You don’t want to get beat up out there every night. Our guys have been keeping us in the game and giving us a chance to win. If we can just stay at the same pace, then we’ve got a chance to win some games. We’ve just got to score some runs. That’s all.”

SECOND: You’ve got to love it when a guy admits he was out for a little revenge.

Last May, Cecil was absolutely drilled in a brief appearance at Fenway Park, where Boston slugged five homers off the young lefty. In two losses to the Red Sox in 2009, Cecil allowed 12 runs over nine innings with seven homers surrendered.

Was that showing on his mind when he took the hill Wednesday?

“Absolutely,” Cecil said. “Nobody gets tore up like that last year and doesn’t look for a little extra something against the team.”

Cecil delivered with a strong performance against the Sox in the spring and he followed it up with a solid six-inning outing on Wednesday. The lefty scattered five hits and allowed one run.

“I feel like I’ve gained a little bit of their respect this year,” Cecil said of the Sox.

THIRD: That bring us to the fact that Cecil — despite his performance — was pegged with a big “L.” But, Blue Jays fans are growing accustomed to seeing such results by now, right? Consider this…

Through 22 games, Toronto’s rotation has turned in 14 quality starts (at least six innings pitched with three runs or fewer allowed), posting a 2.13 ERA in those outings. Nine of those starts have resulted in a loss or a no-decision for the starter.

Said Cito: “I guess the only thing we can take out of it is hopefully our hitters know that if we can go out and get four or five runs, we have a chance to win with the way these guys are pitching. It’s just one of those things. We’re just not driving in any runs or getting any hits right now.”

HOME: There’s got to be a silver lining in here. Let’s look to the eighth and ninth inning. Josh Roenicke logged his first inning of the year for the Jays and blanked Boston and struck out two in the eighth. Rommie Lewis made his big league debut in the ninth with a shutout frame of his own. (Pay no attention to the run Casey Janssen allowed in the seventh, making it 19 runs allowed by the Jays’ bullpen over its last 14 innings of work)

EXTRAS: Only three times over the course of Toronto’s first 21 games did Gaston use a pinch hitter. In the eighth on Wednesday, Gaston used three pinch hitters in a row: lefties Adam Lind, Fred Lewis and Travis Snider to face righty Daniel Bard with a runner on second base. So much for that idea, though. All three struck out in order.

~JB

Game 22 lineups: Red Sox at Jays

BOSTON AT TORONTO
at 7:07 p.m. ET
Rogers Centre

Thumbnail image for RedSox.gifRED SOX (10-11, 5.5 GB)
1. Marco Scutaro, SS
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
3. Victor Martinez, DH
4. Kevin Youkilis, 1B
5. J.D. Drew, RF
6. Jason Varitek, C
7. Adrian Beltre, 3B
8. Bill Hall, LF
9. Darnell McDonald, CF

Pitching: Jon Lester (0-2, 6.23)

Thumbnail image for BlueJays.jpgBLUE JAYS (10-11, 5.5 GB)
1. Mike McCoy, LF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Jose Bautista, RF
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
6. Alex Gonzalez, SS
7. Randy Ruiz, DH
8. Jose Molina, C
9. John McDonald, 3B

Pitching: Brett Cecil (1-0, 5.40)

~JB

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Covering the Bases: Game 21


Thumbnail image for GreggWalk.jpgFIRST: It was only a matter of time before the infectious disease that’s making its way through the Jays’ bullpen got to Kevin Gregg.

Before Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Red Sox, Gregg had sidestepped much damage this year, aside from one run allowed in an April 17 appearance against the Angels.

On Tuesday, Gregg was brought in with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning to face Mike Lowell. Slider. Slider. Fastball. Fastball. Ball four. Take your base.

The bases-loaded walk forced in the decisive run. Not exactly great timing for Gregg’s first walk of the season. And it marked the first inherited runner to score of the seven he’s worked with this year. That hung a run on Scott Downs’ line and resulted in a third loss in the past five Jays’ defeats for the lefty.

For those keeping track at home, the Jays’ bullpen has now surrendered 18 runs over its last 11 innings. The group now has a 5.65 ERA this season. This from a bullpen billed as the club’s strength going into the year.

SECOND: Not that it was the bullpen’s fault, since he was already out of the game in a 1-1 contest, but Shaun Marcum once again walked away without a win. His last victory for the Jays? Try Sept. 11, 2008.

He’s made five starts — five solid starts this year — and has one loss and four no-decisions to show for it. In those four NDs, Marcum has posted a 2.89 ERA. There’s been a lack of run support, a shaky ‘pen and some bad luck along the way.

Against the Red Sox, he allowed one run in the second inning and blanked Boston the rest of the way. He worked seven innings and scattered four hits and wanted to keep pitching. With his count up to 103 pitches, though, Gaston didn’t want to run him out for an eighth inning.

“I told him I had more left, but he’s the manager,” Marcum said. “That’s his call. Either way, I would’ve been fine wiht it. Being a competitor, you want to go out there and pitch as much as you can, especially on a day like today where the bullpen has been getting used a lot lately.”

THIRD: Complain all you want about the lack of offense, or about the 0-for-3s turned in by Lyle Overbay and Travis Snider, or about the Jays going 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position after Wells’ RBI double in the first. But also give some credit to that guy named Clay Buchholz. He pitched a heckuva ballgame here tonight.

HOME: Times have certainly changed, haven’t they? In that decisive eighth inning, with the game on the line and Gregg on the mound with the bases jacked, the Red Sox pulled David “Big Papi” Ortiz back to the bench and sent Lowell up to the plate as a pinch hitter. It’s the second time Papi has been removed for a pinch hitter in a tight situation this season.

~JB

Game 21 lineups: Red Sox at Jays

BOSTON AT TORONTO
at 7:07 p.m. ET
Rogers Centre

Thumbnail image for RedSox.gifRED SOX (9-11, 5.5 GB)
1. Marco Scutaro, SS
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
3. Victor Martinez, C
4. Kevin Youkilis, 1B
5. J.D. Drew, RF
6. David Ortiz, DH
7. Adrian Beltre, 3B
8. Jeremy Hermida, LF
9. Darnell McDonald, CF

Pitching: Clay Buchholz (1-2, 2.70)

Thumbnail image for BlueJays.jpgBLUE JAYS (10-10, 4.5 GB)
1. Fred Lewis, LF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Adam Lind, DH
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
6. Alex Gonzalez, SS
7. Jose Bautista, 3B
8. John Buck, C
9. Travis Snider, RF

Pitching: Shaun Marcum (0-1, 4.00)

~JB

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Covering the Bases: Game 20

Scorecard.jpgFIRST: What was the main thing we learned tonight? How about the fact that the Blue Jays’ bullpen needs some help.

Jeremy Accardo has been struggling. Merkin Valdez has been rarely used, and struggled when he has found work. Jason Frasor has been off. Casey Janssen hasn’t looked sharp recently. Scott Downs and Shawn Camp have taken their lumps, too.

Well, the Jays did something about it after Monday’s 13-12 mess at Rogers Centre.

Accardo (8.10 ERA to go along with all six of his inherited runners scoring) has been optioned to Triple-A Vegas and Valdez (20.25 ERA in two outings) has been designated for assignment. Josh Roenicke (0.00 ERA in 8 2/3 innings) has been recalled from Vegas and Rommie Lewis (2.35 ERA in seven games) had his contract purchased from Triple-A as well.

Over the past three games — all losses — the Jays’ bullpen has yielded 17 runs on 20 hits over nine innings. It has not been pretty and a three-inning performance from starter Dana Eveland only made matters worse on Monday.

Jays sure could use a complete game right about now. Paging, Mr. Marcum.

SECOND: The offense at least looked good (or was Boston’s pitching that bad?).

Eight Jays had hits. Five had more than one hit. Three had three hits. Seven Jays scored at least one run. Five drove in at least one. Toronto churned out a season-high 12 runs on 16 hits and went 7-for-14 with runners in scoring position. An RBI single from Aaron Hill in the third actually snapped an 0-for-22 for the team with RISP.

And that third?

Try 10 hitters, six runs, six hits, one walk, two singles, two double, one triple and one home run — a monster of a three-run blast from Jose Bautista. That gave the Jays a 6-5 lead after Eveland dug a 5-0 hole. That one-run advantage proved to be short-lived in light of the bullpen’s woes, though.

THIRD: Leading the way for the Jays was none other than first baseman Lyle Overbay. He went 3-for-5 with a home run and four RBIs. How bad has his month been going? Overbay had five RBIs in the first 19 games and his big night upped his average to .183. He’s showing signs of life, though.

Overbay had an RBI double on Friday. He had a homer and two hits on Saturday. And then, after a day off on Sunday, Overbay collected three hits in Toronto’s loss to Boston. Baby steps. The Jays are hoping this is a sign that Overbay is pulling himself out of his month-long slump.

Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said it would be nice to have another solid lefty in the lineup beyond just Adam Lind.

HOME: That brings us to Travis Snider. He’s the third lefty in the lineup, but his performance on Monday has him hitting .133 right now. Gaston insists that Snider looks improved at the plate right now than he was at this point a year ago. That said, the young outfielder went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in Monday’s loss. Every other Blue Jay had a hit.

Play GM for a minute and discuss…

Is it better to keep running Snider — still just 22 years old and a big part of the team’s future — out there every day with the hope that he turns this around? Or would he be better served going back to Triple-A like he did in May of last year during a similar slump? 

~JB

Game 20 lineups: Red Sox at Jays

BOSTON AT TORONTO
at 7:07 p.m. ET
Rogers Centre


Thumbnail image for RedSox.gifRED SOX 
(8-11, 6.0 GB)
1. Marco Scutaro, SS
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
3. Kevin Youkilis, 1B
4. Mike Lowell, DH
5. J.D. Drew, RF
6. Jason Varitek, C
7. Adrian Beltre, 3B
8. Bill Hall, LF
9. Darnell McDonald, CF

Pitching: Josh Beckett (1-0, 5.26)

Thumbnail image for BlueJays.jpgBLUE JAYS (10-9, 4.0 GB)
1. Fred Lewis, LF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Adam Lind, DH
4. Vernon Wells, CF
5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
6. Alex Gonzalez, SS
7. Jose Bautista, 3B
8. John Buck, C
9. Travis Snider, RF

Pitching: Dana Eveland (2-0, 1.93)

~JB

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Back on Monday…

Thumbnail image for PleaseStandBy.jpgI’ll be back blogging and tweeting from the Rogers Centre on Monday. For now, feel free to use this post as a forum for dicussing the three-game set against the Rays at the Trop. Catch you in a few days…

~JB

Covering the Bases: Game 16

DownsHR.jpgFIRST: The ending wasn’t pretty: a solo homer from Alex Gordon in the 10th inning to send the Jays to a 4-3 loss.

But there were plenty of things before that pitch from Scott Downs that paved the way forthis loss. And really, that one pitch aside, Downs got three groundouts and picked a guy off to end the top of the ninth.

Things tend to get magnfied when the deciding blow is that type of homer, though. The reality is that — besides Gordon’s homer and a three-run shot from Jose Guillen in the first — Toronto’s pitching staff was good all afternoon.

Eight innings, four singles good.

Shaun Marcum allowed that three-run jolt in the first, but recovered by retiring 14 of the next 15 hitters he faced. Overall, Marcum’s performance was solid. Just that one glitch came back to bit the Jays in the end.

But, a loss is a loss. And there’s not much room for error when the pitcher on the other side if 2009 AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke, who looked a whole lot like 2009 AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke.

Greinke’s line: 7 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 8 K.

SECOND: This was the seventh game in a row that the Blue Jays were playing short-handed. Edwin Encarnacion has been out with an ailing right shoulder and Toronto finally placed him on the 15-day DL following the loss. This time, the fact that the Jays were playing 24 deep showed.

The bench was thin and it forced Toronto to leave John McDonald in to hit with two outs and the game on the line in the bottom of the 10th inning. Mike McCoy had been appropriately used as a pinch runner in the eighth for catcher Jose Molina. That left the Jays without a second baseman on the bench in the 10th.

Should the Jays have used pinch hitter Randy Ruiz in the 10th, going for a shot at tying the game with a solo homer rather than use McDonald? Sure, there’s an argument to be made. But then who plays second in the 11th? Ruiz? Overbay?

Good thing Aaron Hill is set to be activated from the DL on Friday.

THIRD: This is not necessarily related to the game in question, but the fact that Encarnacion has been placed on the DL, and Hill is expected to be activated — the scenario I raised yesterday — means that the Blue Jays do not need to send either Ruiz or McCoy down to clear room on the roster.

The Jays also reorganized their rotation some for the upcoming series against the Rays. Coming up is lefty Brett Cecil, who will start on Friday. That start was originally tabbed for Brian Tallet, but he’s been shelved with a left forearm issue. Tallet’s DL stint is retro to 4/18, Encarnacion’s to 4/15.

HOME: Think the Jays miss Hill’s bat at all? I’ll leave you with this note… Over the 10-game homestand, during which Toronto went 4-6, the Blue Jays’ offense hit .221 with 12 home runs and 85 strikeouts. It’s been all or nothing. With runners in scoring position, the Jays hit at a .227 clip over the same span.

NOTE: I am not traveling to St. Pete for the weekend set against the Rays. So the blog and twitter feed will be dormant until the Jays return to the dome on Monday. Until then…

~JB

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