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TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 12 - Blue Jays Josh Donaldson tumbles after attempting to make a play during the 9th inning as the Toronto Blue Jays host the Houston Astros at the Rogers Centre on August 12, 2016. Houston won the game 5-3 (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Offense sputters (again) in loss to Astros; Liriano also wasn’t very good | Sanchez to get skipped | Who’s pitching well?

TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 12 - Blue Jays Josh Donaldson tumbles after attempting to make a play during the 9th inning as the Toronto Blue Jays host the Houston Astros at the Rogers Centre on August 12, 2016. Houston won the game 5-3 (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Blue Jays fall to Houston in Liriano’s home debut | Toronto Star

It was probably unrealistic to expect Liriano’s reunion with Russell Martin would alone be enough to return him to his past form. As tantalizing a narrative that is, it was never going to be that easy.

Between 2013 and 2015, Liriano was among the better starting pitchers in the National League. This year, however, he has struggled to the tune of a 5.46 ERA, while posting the majors’ highest walk rate.

“It’s been happening a lot for me this year,” Liriano said in reference to the walks, two of which came around to score on Friday. “I’m looking for answers, but I haven’t found any yet.”

The Jays hoped rekindling his relationship with his former battery-mate might help remind Liriano of his past success, and that may still be the case in the long run.

But he was not acquired at the trade deadline to lead the Jays’ staff, as David Price was last season. General manager Ross Atkins sought the veteran southpaw to add depth to a rotation that so far this season has arguably been the best in the American League.

Initially, he was to replace Aaron Sanchez’s spot in the starting five, before Atkins and the rest of the front office settled on the unconventional compromise of a six-man rotation, appeasing Sanchez and the growing chorus of opposition in the clubhouse. So Liriano is looked upon to be the fifth or sixth starter, alongside R.A. Dickey. With that as the standard, Friday’s outing wasn’t exceptionally disappointing.

Of greater concern to the Jays may be the recent struggles of their offence, which for the eighth time in their last 12 games failed to score more than three runs. The Jays averaged nearly five runs a game through the season’s first four months.

Poor start from Liriano, Jays lose to Astros | Bluebird Banter

Francisco Liriano wasn’t good. In 5.2 innings, he allowed 8 hits, 5 earned, 2 walks and 5 strikeouts. He gave up 4 doubles and a home run. He seemed to be setting things up on a tee for the Astros. Everything was hit hard.

Our bullpen did a good job, 3.1 scoreless innings. Ryan Tepera went 1.2, gave up a couple of infield hits (both helped out by less than perfect throws. Troy Tulowitzki went to his left, made a nice play, but, for some reason did a spin before throwing off line. Devon Travis went a long way to his left to make a play, but his throw was in the dirt). Brett Cecil got 2 outs around a walk.

Scott Feldman had some 2-out trouble in the ninth. With 2 outs, he gave up a bunt single and then, yet another, infield single and a walk to load the bases, before getting a ground out to end the inning.

On offense, we really couldn’t do anything against Joe Musgrove. He went 7 innings, gave up 6 hits, 2 earned, 1 walk and had 7 strikeouts. We finished with just 7 hits on the night.

We had a shot at a big inning, in the third. Darrell Cecilliani doubled and Travis singled, to give us runners on the corners, but Josh Donaldson hit into an easy double play. That did score our first run.

MLB: Astros 5, Blue Jays 3 | TSN

Both Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve drove in two runs and Joe Musgrove struck out seven over seven solid innings as the Astros got by the Blue Jays. Edwin Encarnacion hit his 300th career home run in the loss.

Liriano shaky in Blue Jays loss to Astros, Encarnacion hits 300th HR | Jays Journal

While he was able to get out of some tight spots in the 2nd and 4th innings, the Astros did all the damage they needed to in the 3rd and 5th innings.

After striking out first baseman Tyler White to strand Evan Gattis at 2nd base following his two-out double in the 2nd inning, Liriano ran into some serious trouble in the 3rd.

A leadoff walk by Teoscar Hernandez, who was making his major league debut (more on that later), a one-out walk to George Springer, and a single by rookie Alex Bregman gave the Astros a bases loaded one-out situation to play with.

Carlos Correia, who the Blue Jays held in check well in last weeks series in Houston, followed that up by lining a single up the middle to cash in two runs and give the Astros a 2-0 lead.

Jays prep for eventual Sanchez ‘bump’ | Toronto Sun

“We’re going to bump him along the way,” said Gibbons, who otherwise couldn’t reveal the Jays’ overall plans, adding that not everything had been determined.

Sanchez will make his 23rd start of the season on Saturday against the Astros. He has pitched 145.1 innings in 2016 after pitching 92.1 innings a year ago. Sanchez is 11-2 and his 2.85 earned-run average was tied for second in the American League.

For the others Jays starters working in the six-man rotation, extra days off means extra work, and for Marco Estrada, that meant planning a bullpen session for Saturday.

“I have not thrown one yet (when he has been healthy),” Estrada said.

“I will throw one (Saturday) and I will see how I feel. I can’t tell you how many pitches I am going to throw, but it will probably still be under 20.

“I don’t feel like I need that many, but I do want to get out there and get the feel of throwing off the mound and just making a few pitches here to keep things going.”

If any pro athlete is a creature of habit, it’s a starting pitcher, but Estrada said that having more days between starts “isn’t upsetting at all.”

“All you are doing is adding a day to it,” Estrada said. “If we didn’t have off-days it would be a lot better, but when you do, it’s when it gets a little more difficult.

“(The six-man rotation) is an adjustment and it is something we all have to deal with. We want Sanchez in the rotation, so this is definitely the best thing to do right now.”

Thoughts on Sanchez plan; Estrada adjusts to six-man rotation | TSN

As reported by TSN last week, the Blue Jays would like to cap Sanchez in the 180-190 inning range; they want to avoid him throwing more than 200 innings under any circumstance. The club also wants Sanchez available to make one start per playoff round, which likely means a maximum of three (allowing for the uncertainty of a wild card play-in game and how they could affect Sanchez’s Division Series availability). In this case, Sanchez would need to be in the 175-180 inning range at the end of the regular season to allow for the possibility of making three playoff starts without blowing past 200 innings.
At the moment, Sanchez sits 145 1/3 innings prior to his scheduled start Saturday against the Astros. If he’s going to throw only 35 or so more innings in the regular season, he’ll need to be limited to five more starts including Saturday.
Sanchez would next be scheduled to pitch, factoring in the six-man rotation and the off day this Thursday, in Cleveland. The Indians are a possible playoff opponent; keep Sanchez in line for that appearance, likely the Saturday game at Progressive Field.
The following homestand sees the moribund Angels and Twins come to Toronto; skip Sanchez entirely there and throw him into the mix for the three-game series in Baltimore, which begins the road trip to end August. At this point, Sanchez has two starts left.
The Rays and Yankees are non-factors; the Jays play those two nine times beginning on September 2 and ending on the September 14. The Red Sox, a series in Toronto, are sandwiched in there. Start Sanchez against Boston; one start left.
That final start should be in the final week of September at home against Baltimore.

How Badly Has Jose Bautista Hurt His Value? | Blue Jay Hunter

The nature in which Jose Bautista sustained these recent injuries was totally unpredictable, but they were injuries nonetheless. Regardless of whether a player gets hurt due to poor conditioning or they simply stumble on artificial turf, that player is no good to a team when they can’t stay on the field.

From the beginning, Bautista drew a hard line in his negotiations with the new front office regime, and they didn’t relent or cave to fan base or external influence. Mark Shaprio and Ross Atkins didn’t do anything drastic with Jose Bautista, and so far, it’s paid off for the Blue Jays.

It’s reached the point where Bautista may consider accepting a qualifying offer from the Blue Jays (assuming that they give him one). That’s a long way to fall; from being a $150 million dollar man to a $17 million dollar man.

Regardless of what happens with Bautista down the stretch, it’s safe to assume the Blue Jays will extend a qualifying offer. At the very least, Jose Bautista nets a draft pick, and the Blue Jays need as many of those prospects as they can get.

I wonder if Jose Bautista might accept a qualifying offer in the hopes of using 2017 as a year to re-establish some value and then hit the open market in 2017 instead in the hopes of getting of landing a sizable contract.

But considering that Ian Kennedy miraculously fetched a four-year/$70 million dollar deal last winter, surely there’s some team out there that will give Jose Bautista something better than the standard qualifying offer.

Toronto Blue Jays: Who’s Hot, Who’s Not | Tip of the Tower

Hot: Devon Travis

In the 22 games he’s played in since the break, Travis has been one of the best hitters on the entire team, sporting a batting average of .374 with 13 RBIs and four home runs. Those long bombs paired with six doubles over that span, have his .591 slugging percentage almost 100 points higher than his career average, and is the highest on the team.

Most surprisingly though, is his run production. His 13 RBIs are the fourth-most on the team, only behind Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson, and Troy Tulowitzki – that is some pretty good company to be in.

Even more impressively, Travis has done it from both ends of the lineup. He entered the second half of the season batting in the nine hole, before being moved to leadoff after his stellar play.

Who’s up, Who’s down: Blue Jays pitchers | Bluebird Banter

Happ’s had 3 starts. All 3 were great. We won all 3 and he got the W in all 3. He had a 0.95 ERA. Batters hit .169/.239/.246 with 1 home run, 6 walks and 24 strikeouts in 19 innings.

He’s having an amazing season. I really never figured he would be this good. I know wins don’t mean all that much but a 16-3 record is nice to see. I keep thinking he’s been our 3rd best pitcher, but maybe the top 3 are all equal.

Blue Jays Jason Grilli, Joaquin Benoit enjoying change-of-scenery rebound | Toronto Star

Grilli owns a tidy 1.90 ERA since joining the Jays, compared to the 5.29 mark he posted in 21 appearances with the last-place Atlanta Braves in April and May. Grilli said his numbers in Atlanta don’t tell the whole story — he was still working his way back from his Achilles injury and was burned by bad luck on a few occasions — but he has also benefitted from having a steady role in Toronto, not to mention the adrenaline rush of pitching for a contender.

“I’m relishing being in a role that I know I’m capable of doing,” said the former Pirates closer. “I’m enjoying being in a pennant race. There’s a lot more to play for. There’s 45,000 in the seats; where I was before there were more empty seats than full ones.”

Gibbons suggested recently that, for a veteran player like Grilli, joining a contending team can have a “re-energizing” effect.

The Jays are now enjoying a similar change-of-scenery turnaround from another 39-year-old reliever in Joaquin Benoit, who struggled through the first half of the season with the Seattle Mariners but hasn’t allowed a single earned run in seven appearances with the Jays thus far.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” said Benoit, who averaged a 2.35 ERA in the six seasons prior to this one. “Change of scenery, fresh start, forget about what happened in the last couple months.”

Gibbons has said on multiple occasions that he doesn’t like to prejudge or pigeonhole a player’s abilities before they have a chance to perform in their new threads. When Benoit arrived from Seattle for underachieving right-hander Drew Storen, Gibbons immediately handed him high-pressure opportunities and the chance to sink or swim.

Blue Jays an unlikely fit for Carlos Gomez | Jays Journal

Carlos Gomez sticks out as a player who might make sense as an addition for the playoff stretch. Still only 30, this is a player who was an All-Star in 2013-14, and hit 23 home runs and stole 34 bases in 2014 while playing solid centre-field defence. He received MVP votes just a season and a half ago.

But here’s the thing….. he’s really, REALLY struggled this year.

Gomez finished his season with the Astros with a line of .210/.272/.322 with just 5 home runs and and 29 RBI over 323 plate appearances. His defence has taken a step back and he struck out a whopping 100 times against just 21 walks. He did have 13 stolen bases in 15 attempts, but other than that it’s been an all-around disaster in 2016.

The Astros aren’t in the position they want to be, but they’re far from written off in the playoff race. If they felt that Gomez has something to offer their club, they would have kept him around. Their options to replace him are Colby Rasmus (who is currently on the DL), or Jake Marisnick, who has struggled greatly. It’s not like the Astros are moving Gomez to make room for a stud prospect who needs a shot. They’re simply just cutting dead weight.

With any acquisition of this nature, it’s entirely possible that Gomez could join the Blue Jays and re-discover the form that made him an All-Star just two seasons ago. But given the fact that the Jays should get all three of their injured outfielders back within two weeks, can they afford to let Gomez try and figure it out? Are they any better off with someone like him, than a Cecilliani/ Junior Lake platoon?

Pitching Prospect Rundown, Aug 8-11: Zeuch taking off | Bluebird Banter

After a very measured beginning to his pro career, T.J. Zeuch is finally being some latitude to show what made him a first rounder. Despite throwing less innings than usual for Pitt this spring due to an injury, Zeuch was not assigned to Vancouver for almost a month after signing, and then was strictly limited to three inning outings for his first three outings. Now it look like the restrictor plates are coming off, as he went four innings last week and Wednesday night turned in five very good innings.

Working with a fastball registering 93-94 on the stadium gun, Zeuch allowed 3 runs on 8 hits, with 6 strikeouts and no free passes. That line doesn’t reflect how good Zeuch was, as of those hits, three were infield singles, one was a bouncer up the middle, and another one or two were dunkers that fell in. he did give up a couple of hard hits, but probably could have escaped with 5 shutout innings had he not been so snakebitten as hits were strung together in the 4th inning.

The other major positive was 11 swinging strikes, a stellar 69% contact rate. The second time through the order, he was piling up the whiffs on what was being called a change-up, at around 87 MPH.

Blue Jays’ Ezequiel Carrera begins minor-league rehab | Toronto Star

SANCHEZ TO BE SKIPPED: Even with the Jays moving to an unconventional six-man rotation to preserve Aaron Sanchez’s innings, Gibbons said they will also look to occasionally skip the 24-year-old right-hander’s turn down the stretch.

“We’re going to bump him along the way,” Gibbons said, while refusing to disclose the exact plan.

Sanchez, scheduled to start Saturday against the Astros, would make eight more starts this season if the rotation rolled out equally. That would likely lift his innings to 200 before the postseason, which would make Jays’ brass uncomfortable. Look for his turn to be skipped at least twice, maybe even three times, so that he enters the postseason around the 180-inning mark.

Blue Jays MiLB Report: Borucki deals, Smith steals | Jays Journal

Buffalo Bisons (58-60)   –   2
Indianapolis Indians (59-61)   –   3

Buffalo managed just two runs on their 11 hits due in large part to their inability to work a walk. Andy Burns and Dalton Pompey had an RBI apiece, both going 1-for-4, while Ryan Goins, Matt Dominguez, and Domonic Brown all went 2-for-4. Goins doubled twice and moved his triple-A average to .309.

Chris Leroux got the start, allowing three runs on seven hits over six innings and striking out five. Matt Dermody pitched two scoreless innings to move his ERA to 2.08 (1.54 across A+, AA, AAA) and Chad Girodo closed it out with a clean ninth.

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