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TORONTO, CANADA - AUGUST 13: Russell Martin #55 of the Toronto Blue Jays is congratulated by Edwin Encarnacion #10 after hitting a three-run home run in the sixth inning during MLB game action against the Houston Astros on August 13, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Jays tops Astros with solid pitching and timely batting | Saunders doing well with opportunity | Smoak’s future uncertain | Vlad Jr. is making waves

TORONTO, CANADA - AUGUST 13: Russell Martin #55 of the Toronto Blue Jays is congratulated by Edwin Encarnacion #10 after hitting a three-run home run in the sixth inning during MLB game action against the Houston Astros on August 13, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Martin impresses on defence, at plate as Blue Jays rebound vs. Astros |

After Josh Donaldson halved Houston’s lead with a solo home run the Blue Jays had trouble generating offence against Collin McHugh. It wasn’t until the sixth inning that the Blue Jays rallied with singles from Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders that set up Martin’s home run.

It was Martin’s ninth home run of the year, so he’s not close to the pace he set last year when he homered 23 times, but he has quietly hit well in recent months, raising his season on-base percentage to .332, well above the MLB average of .321. That’s some respectable production from a position that’s a complete zero offensively on many teams, especially considering how badly he struggled early in the season.

There are signs that Martin’s throwing may be improving, too. He threw out the otherwise unstoppable Jose Altuve for the second consecutive day, nabbing the MVP candidate with a strong, accurate throw. Though he’s historically been an exceptional thrower, Martin entered play Saturday having prevented just eight of 52 stolen base attempts.

Catchers often start to fade this time of year, but if anything Martin appears to be getting stronger, with no visible traces of the neck soreness that lingered early in the season or the knee injury sustained after a sauna session in July.

Sanchez pitched himself out of trouble vs. Astros | Toronto Sun

After spotting the visiting Houston Astros a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a single and back-to-back doubles, Sanchez froze catcher Evan Gattis with a strike three curveball to end the threat.

It was a sign of things to come on a muggy afternoon at the Rogers Centre as the Jays’ young hurler bobbed and weaved his way through seven innings to earn his twelfth win of the season in a 4-2 victory.

Whenever Sanchez got into trouble, he made the pitches he needed to make to get out of it.

Jays catcher Russell Martin, who hit a go-ahead three-run homerun in the bottom of the sixth inning, said a little adjustment early in the game made all the difference.

“It seemed like they were gonna jump on the heater early in counts, and they were taking good swings off of it so we had to kind of mix it up a little bit, throw some more breaking balls,” he said. “He (Sanchez) did that, threw some strikes with it. Once he shows he has the ability to do that it takes away from some of the aggressiveness and it played out for us.”

After the first, Sanchez held the Astros scoreless over his next six innings. He finished with six strike outs and two earned runs on five hits, while spreading around three walks over 95 pitches.

“Starting the game, I just kind of throw to my tendencies and my strengths and they slapped three balls to right field in a hurry. I just knew something needed to change there,” Sanchez said. “Once JD hit that homerun and we got within one, I just told myself, ‘Keep them there as long as you can, give the team a chance to win the game late.’”

MLB: Astros 2, Blue Jays 4 | TSN

Russell Martin hit a go-ahead, three-run home run in the sixth, and Aaron Sanchez allowed two runs on five hits over seven innings to earn his 12th win of the season as the Blue Jays doubled up the Astros.

Russell Martin’s three-run homer sparks Blue Jays win over Astros | Toronto Star

It was the “clutch” multi-run homer that has eluded the Jays for the most part over the past month. They’d entered this contest with an American League low .221 team batting average since the all-star break, and their .221 mark with runners in scoring position during that period still remains a concern.

But it’s Martin defence — he threw out MVP candidate Jose Altuve trying to steal second in the third inning — and his game-calling which makes him one of the most valuable at his position.

Martin talked with starter Aaron Sanchez, making an adjustment on first-pitch fastballs after Houston batters slapped a single and two doubles to jump out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first inning.

“They looked like they were jumping on heaters early in the counts, so we had to get them off the fastball . . . once he did that, he was good,” Martin said of Sanchez, who improved to 12-2 with a seven-inning, five-hitter.

Martin almost didn’t get a chance for his batting heroics. He thought he drew a walk on a 3-1 pitch from Astros reliever James Hoyt just prior to his homer.

“I didn’t think it was a ball until I came in here (the dressing room after the game) and looked at the video,” said Martin. “I’m glad they called it a strike. It felt good. I wasn’t sure I got enough of it. But when I saw the (outfielder) running back, it went over the fence, it was a great feeling.”

Martin’s 3-run homer helps Jays beat Astros | Bluebird Banter

Aaron Sanchez had some troubles in the 1st inning. He gave up a 1-out single and back-to-back doubles to put us down 2 runs early.

After the first, Aaron settled in. He allowed just 2 more hits over the next 6 innings. He finished at 7 innings, 5 hits, 2 earned, 3 walks and 6 strikeouts. He did give up a couple of fly balls right to the outfield wall but both were caught.

Jason Grilli gave up a 2-out triple in the 8th. Michael Saunders dived for the sinking liner, he shouldn’t have, but Grilli struck out Carlos Correa to end to inning.

Roberto Osuna pitched the 9th for his 26th save. He did give up a 2-out double to the wall, that Ceciliani almost made an amazing catch, just missing it jumping at the wall.

Game Recap: Russsssssssssss! | JaysNation

Holy shit, that felt nice! I had almost forgotten what a huge hit felt like, because it’s been, like, what, three days since the Jays lineup came up with one? Regardless, after an ugly loss on Friday featuring some limp bats and another slow start to today’s game, Russell Martin’s three-run home run in the sixth inning was most certainly a reason to get fired up. How fired up? Let’s ask Jason Grilli:

Blue Jays top Astros as Aaron Sanchez bounces back | Jays Journal

Josh Donaldson launched his 28th home run of the season to deep left-centre field in the bottom of the first inning to get the Blue Jays started.

Toronto was held quiet by Collin McHugh throughout the bulk of the game, but finally broke through in the bottom of the sixth. Russell Martin took a hanging breaking ball to straight-away centre for a three-run home run to score Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders, who had reached on a well-timed bunt down the left-field line.

Sanchez bounced back from his last outing with a strong seven innings. The right-hander allowed just two earned runs on five hits, walking three and striking out six. His start looked to be headed in the wrong direction early, though, before he found a groove.

Martin powers Blue Jays through Astros | TSN

Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders reached on back-to-back singles with one out, ending McHugh’s day after 5 1/3 innings. Two batters later, with Hoyt on in relief, Martin knocked in his second homer of the month giving Toronto a 4-2 lead.
McHugh (7-10) allowed three earned on five hits while striking out six and walking two in the loss.
Houston threatened in the eighth as Jose Altuve hit a two-out triple off of reliever Jason Grilli. However, the veteran right-hander got Correa swinging on a fastball to end the inning.
Roberto Osuna pitched a scoreless ninth for his 26th save of the season. The 21-year-old tied a Major League Baseball record for most saves (46) before his 22nd birthday.
“It means a lot, obviously,” said Osuna. “Thank God for the opportunity to be here and obviously the Blue Jays because they were the first ones to trust in me so, thanks a lot.”

Young Osuna proving himself as a closer for Jays | Toronto Sun

When Osuna nailed down the Jays’ 4-2 win over the Houston Astros, he equalled a record held by Terry Forster for career saves (46) before a player’s 22nd birthday. Yeah, obscure. But Osuna will take it.

“It means a lot, obviously,” Osuna said. “I enjoy every moment that I’m here, as a starter, reliever, bat boy, whatever. It’s my pleasure to be here so I want to enjoy it as much as I can.”

In the volatile world of closing – few who start the season with that title end the year with it – Osuna has quickly become one of the game’s best. He has converted 26 of 28 save chances this year, including 13 straight, and boasts an ERA of 1.89.

It’s an impressive resume for someone who should be in the low minors.

“He’s a quick learner,” Jays catcher Russell Martin said in explaining Osuna’s acumen in the role. “He has the ability to make adjustments quick. You can work on something one day and it’s already better. He has some type of intelligence where he can make adjustments on the fly like that.”

But it’s also hit repertoire, which is more extensive than most closers. Some live by the fastball alone. Not Osuna.

“His changeup is a great pitch, he has an electric fastball, he’s been working on a cutter and he’s got a slider,” Martin said. “Normally when you have a young kid with so many pitches, you kinda get worried they’re not going to be sharp. With him, you can ask for one cutter every five outings and it’s going to be a good cutter.

Jays notebook: Six-man rotation could last until late September | Toronto Star

The Blue Jays’ six-man rotation is expected to end sometime in September; the only question is when.

Some are pointing to Sept. 22, when the Jays have an off-day. That off-day also happens to be the last of six the team has between now and the end of the season.

With 45 games remaining in the regular season, it is believed Toronto can skip an Aaron Sanchez start if needed and still keep the six-man rotation intact.

The Jays added the extra starter to help protect the arm of Sanchez, who is in his first full season in the rotation. The first full spin of the six-man unit ended with Sanchez’s start Saturday.

The end to the experiment could also come at an earlier date, depending on how the six starters perform. Toronto’s original five-man rotation was among the best in baseball, with three starters among the American League’s ERA leaders.

Michael Saunders looks right in right field | Toronto Sun

Saunders launched his career-best 20th home run Friday in a loss to the Houston Astros at the Rogers Centre – with 45 games left, he’s sure to add to that total – and has seamlessly made the transition to right field with Jose Bautista on the DL. It has been a continuation of the contributions that earned Saunders a spot in the all-star game in San Diego.

“He’s had a great year for us, made the all-star team, set his own personal record for home runs,” Jays manager John Gibbons said. “He’ll hit some more before it’s all said and done. He’s been better than I thought he was gonna be, primarily because he missed the whole year last year. That’s a long layoff. But he’s been a big part of this team, that’s for sure.”

Gibbons agreed that Saunders’ good health has played a major role in his production — a .270 average with 49 extra-base hits and 48 RBIs – but he also has been a good fit here, clearly as comfortable as one of the Jays’ homegrown regulars. He needs just nine RBIs in the last couple of months to equal his career best of 57 (2012 with Seattle, the same year he had 19 homers).

And with Bautista out due to a knee injury, Saunders has slid over from left field and not looked out of place.

“He’s played both (left and right), centre,” Gibbons said. “Guys that haven’t done it, it might be new, but those guys that all play the outfield in the big leagues, they can pick things up pretty quick. It’s more (adjusting to) the way the ball comes off the bat.”

Blue Jays role for Justin Smoak in playoff run uncertain | Jays Journal

Smoak’s defence is often held up as a redeeming quality but the metrics have failed to back that up, and going by those same numbers (which can certainly have their shortcomings as a measurement tool for first-basemen), Smoak is having one of his poorer defensive seasons. His current 2016 WAR sits at 0.2.

For now, Smoak’s job is safe. Jesus Montero doesn’t appear to be in the MLB plans and Rowdy Tellez won’t be pushing the 25-man roster until 2017 at the earliest, but the eventual return of Toronto’s injured outfielders will create a squeeze.

Kevin Pillar‘s return will exist in more of a vacuum when it relates to Smoak, but Jose Bautista could conceivably slide back in as a full-time designated hitter when he’s back from a recent knee sprain.

This is Bautista’s second trip to the disabled list after a bout of turf toe earlier in the season, and if he returns as expected in late August, there is little-to-no reason for the Blue Jays to risk Bautista further by playing him in the field. Beyond the basic risk of injury, he’s been very poor defensively and his once-dominant throwing arm has all but abandoned him.

Toronto will essentially be choosing between the net impact of: RF Bautista, 1B Smoak, DH Encarnacion -or- RF Upton Jr., 1B Encarnacion, DH Bautista.

A Reminder: You Can Bring Outside Food Into a Blue Jays Game | Blue Jay Hunter

So if you want to bring an extra large pizza into the Jays game? Go nuts. A quarter chicken dinner? Feel free. A Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls, squash and apple pie? It seems like a huge undertaking, but if you’re up for the task, you can bring it all into the Rogers Centre.

A pro tip is to grab a hot dog (or in the case of Colby Rasmus, a chicken dog) at one of the stands outside the dome, load it up with all the fixings, and enjoy it inside the Rogers Centre for a fraction of the price.

I can speak from experience that when you’re traveling with kids, bringing in your own food and snacks is essential. Having your own bag packed with Goldfish crackers, juice boxes and granola bars for kids is a life-saver.

For most fans, bringing in outside food is an absolute must to keep costs down, but also because the food offerings at Blue Jays games are often “uninspired” to put it lightly.

Conner Greene throws 6 shutout innings, Vlad Jr. hits a pair of bombs, and more | Bluebird Banter

Meanwhile, down in Bluefield, 17-year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr was at the centre of an offensive outburst in a 18-5 rout of the Pulaski (it may be just rookie level baseball, but as far as I’m concerned thrashing the Yankees is always a good thing). On the night, Guerrero went 3/4, with two home runs, a walk, and a strikeout. It’s worth pointing out that on the night the teams combined for 8 home runs, all to left field, so the ball was clearly flying carrying well on the evening.

Guerrero’s first home run came in his second at-bat, as he jumped on the first pitch that Yankee RHP Rafael Lara threw in the game. That came after he singled his first at-bat, a shallow Texas leaguer that fell in left field after he worked the count full. He walked his third time, an eight pitch battle he won after falling behind 1-2. He wasn’t so fortunate the next time, striking out swinging. Then in his last at-bat facing RHP Miles Chambers (NOT Canadian Jeff Degano, as the box score reflects, who was relieved the inning before), an experienced high level college performer at Cal State Fullerton, Guerrero smashed an 0-1 pitch over the left-centre field wall.

That effort pushes Guerrero’s season line to .267/.358/.471, with 7 home runs (19 total extra base hits) and 24 walks against 26 strikeouts. There’s some definite things to work on – a lot of popups, and a propensity for wild swings at breaking balls out of the zone, which pitcher had been increasingly exploiting – but merely holding his own would be impressive at 17, much less ~20% above average.

August 12, 2016 Minor League Report | Blue Jays from Away

Buffalo Bisons 0, Pawtucket Red Sox 4

The Buffalo Bisons opened their series against the Pawtucket Red Sox by getting shut out 4-0. Jesus Montero had the Bisons’ only two hits, raising his average to .314.

Mike Bolsinger went four innings, giving up three runs on four hits with two walks and three strikeouts to take the loss while Jason Berken provided four more innings of one-(unearned)-run ball, giving up four hits and one walk with five strikeouts. Bo Schultz struck out one in a 1-2-3 ninth.

Player of the Game: None

Roster Notes: Ezequiel Carrera was sent to the Bisons to begin a rehab assignment.

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