Approach-wise, there was little to dislike with what the Blue Jays did at the plate Monday, but an inability to execute in a few key spots hurt.
The first inning offered a prime example, as Devon Travis led off with a double, Jose Bautista singled him home to open the scoring, Josh Donaldson hit a laser fly ball to centre field caught for an out, and Edwin Encarnacion then singled to put men on the corners.
Up came Michael Saunders with a runner on third and less than two out, but he couldn’t bring the run home, grounding weakly to first. Only Bautista’s break home to draw a throw prevented a double play. Kevin Pillar then grounded out as Masahiro Tanaka did a great job of damage control.
One run is better than none but against Tanaka – who in 10 career starts versus the Blue Jays has allowed more than two earned runs only once – they needed to do better there.
“That’s always big for a pitcher,” said Gibbons. “Then he held us in check for the most part.”
Dickey then compounded things by surrendering a two-run homer to Jacoby Ellsbury on his third pitch of the game, and the Blue Jays didn’t lead again.
Austin doubled in the third and scored on Ellsbury’s RBI single, while the first baseman cashed in a single and a walk in the fourth with a smash off the left-centre field wall for a 5-1 edge. Dickey allowed seven hits and a walk with five strikeouts.
“Sometimes this game’s a matter of centimetres,” said Dickey. “One that gets off the barrel doesn’t get off the barrel, and it’s popped out to right field. Or an infield single or a single the other way that’s a pretty good one. It’s just been frustrating, but I’ve got to keep pushing forward. I’ve got a lot to offer still and four more starts to do it.”
“Well, they hit Dickey around a little bit today,” said manager John Gibbons when asked about his rotation’s mini-slump. “I thought he was a little inconsistent with the knuckleball today.”
Dickey was pulled after four innings after giving up seven hits and five runs while striking out five and walking only one — his shortest start since July 23 in Seattle. His performance followed rough outings by rotation mates J.A. Happ on Sunday, Marco Estrada on Saturday and Marcus Stroman on Friday. Heading into Monday’s game, Toronto’s starters led the American League in wins (58), ERA (3.78), average (.239), innings pitched (843.2) and were second in WHIP (1.22). The loss dropped Dickey to 9-14 with a 4.60 ERA.
“You know, it was pretty good actually,” said Dickey when asked about his knuckleball. “I had a lot of movement on it, it’s just sometimes this game’s a matter of centimetres.
“It’s just been frustrating, but I got to keep pushing forward,” added the veteran starter. “I got a lot to offer still, and four more starts to do it.”
The Jays had Yankees’ starter Masahiro Tanaka in trouble in the first inning, allowing Toronto to take a 1-0 lead, but he settled down, going 6.1 innings, giving up two hits and two runs. The Japanese veteran is 12-4 on the season.
The Jays made a game of it, scoring two runs when down 5-1 in the seventh, but they fell short as a result of stranding eight runners on base and went 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position. On the up side, the bullpen, led by Francisco Liriano, was outstanding. The left-hander, who was recently moved from the rotation, pitched two innings, giving up only one hit and striking out three before being pulled after the sixth inning because his backed locked up — the result, he said, of not being used to pitching out of the pen.
“It’s a little tight, but nothing serious,” said Liriano.
Relievers Brett Cecil and Joaquin Benoit also pitched hitless innings for Toronto.
Brett Cecil was the next Jays reliever out of the pen and worked a quiet 7th. Tyler Clippard came in to work the 8th for the Yankees did the same. Joaquin Benoit worked the bottom half for the Jays and managed to pitch around a 1-out walk to get through the inning. Finally, Dellin Betances, the Yankees closer, entered the game in the 9th.
While I’d love to report a big comeback, it was not to be. Jays fall to the Yankees.
Jacoby Ellsbury smacked a two-run homer on R.A. Dickey’s third pitch of the game while Masahiro Tanaka allowed two runs and seven hits in 6 1/3 innings to shut down the Blue Jays.
With the loss, the Jays fall to 3-4 on this road trip, a stretch in which they have averaged 4.1 runs scored per game — nearly a full run below their league average. The Jays also went homer-less on Monday for the third time in the last four games, their longest power outage since April.
“That’s how this game is sometimes,” said Edwin Encarnacion, who had three hits on Monday.
Encarnacion suggested having faith in the Jays’ veteran lineup.
“We understand this game, we have a lot of time in this game, we have to keep going and don’t worry about what it’s in the past. We’ve got to focus on tomorrow’s game and the next three weeks.”
The Jays looked poised to break out early against Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka, jumping out to an early 1-0 lead two batters into the game. But that was all the damage they could do, which seemed to settle Tanaka.
“That’s always big for a pitcher,” Gibbons said.
The slim lead lasted all of three R.A. Dickey pitches, as the 41-year-old knuckleballer gave up two quick hits in the bottom half of the first, including a two-run homer to Jacoby Ellsbury, who drove in three runs on the afternoon. Dickey, who pitched well in August, had the second-shortest outing of his season, lasting just four innings while allowing five runs on seven hits. He is now on pace for fewer than 200 innings for the first time since he became a full-time starter in 2010.
As they have done a lot in the last several games, Toronto jumped on the opposing starter in the first inning. Devon Travis got things started with a leadoff double, and was cashed by an RBI single for Jose Bautista. Despite a one-out single by Edwin Encarnacion the offense would fail to extend the early lead.
From that point on it was all Yankees, as they countered back in their half of the first inning with a Brett Gardner single, and a Jacoby Ellsbury home run. Two batters in and a 2-1 lead.
Ellsbury would drive in his third run of the day in the third inning. His single to right field would push across Tyler Austin who reach earlier on a double.
New York would get to Dickey once again in the fourth inning as Tyler Austin laced his second double of the afternoon to drive in Starlin Castro and Austin Romine, and give the Yanks a 5-1 lead.
For a second consecutive game Gibby and the Blue Jays didn’t get much help from the starting pitching. After yesterday’s 2.2 IP from Happ, the bullpen could have used at least six from R.A. Dickey today. Unfortunately, the knuckleballer was chased after 4 IP, 7H, 5ER, 1BB, 5K, with a 5-1 deficit.
The score, however, was very much deceiving at that point. The Blue Jays offense was able to put together seven hits and two walks for a total of nine baserunners through five innings. Going 1-7 with RISP, and leaving six runner on base through five innings against Masahiro Tanaka, is the definition of letting opportunity pass you buy.
A bout of back stiffness forced Francisco Liriano to exit Monday’s 5-3 loss to the New York Yankees after two innings of work, but the Toronto Blue Jays left-hander insists it’s a matter of little concern.
Working out of the bullpen for the second time this season, Liriano took over from R.A. Dickey in the fifth and allowed just one hit while striking out three batters before leaving the game.
“It’s just a little tight, that’s what I came out,” Liriano said through interpreter Josue Peley. “Being in the bullpen, I’m not used to it yet, so it’s just a little tight, nothing serious.”
Liriano made his first relief appearance since 2012 on Friday in Tampa, surrendering a homer and a triple while facing three batters. This time around, he felt much stronger.
“I’m just trying to do my job, trying to help the team and things worked out for me today,” he said.
EDWIN OFF SCHNEID: Edwin Encarnacion’s bat had cooled off in recent days but he broke out for three hits on Monday, including a two-run single in the seventh inning that cut the Yankees’ four-run lead in half.
The three hits matched Encarnacion’s season high and his total in the previous seven games.
Usually a pull hitter, Encarnacion sliced his seventh-inning single the other way into right field.
“I’ve got to make adjustments,” he said. “With men in scoring position they’ve been pitching me a lot away. I just tried to put it in play the other way.”
POWER OUTAGE: The Jays are second in the majors in home runs, but Monday marked the third game in their last four in which they did not hit a long ball. Russell Martin’s game-winning blast on Sunday is their only homer since Friday, which is the fewest home runs they have hit over a four-game stretch since April.
Part of what supports this theory is that Liriano has some recognizably good numbers against left-handed hitters in comparison to righties. Against lefties, over his career, he holds them to a .218/.296/.299 slash line against a righty slash of .242/.330/.390. While this year’s numbers have edged up slightly in comparison to his career norms, Liriano is still much more effective against left-handers than he is against righties.
Whether or not the statistics play out like this if Liriano does indeed go to the pen is another story. It’s one thing for the data to look good on a computer screen, it’s completely another for it to play out that way on a real baseball field. In his first relief appearance on the weekend, the results certainly weren’t comforting as he was unable to record an out, but that doesn’t mean the idea is a total train-wreck either.
This idea actually does make some sense. When you get to the postseason, was Liriano going to be in the rotation anyway? Going with four starters on a playoff roster, you’d likely go with Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, J.A Happ and Marcus Stroman if you were to draw it up. That leaves R.A Dickey on the outside looking in and with a good but not remarkable track-record so far in Toronto, Liriano likely wouldn’t make the cut either.
Thus, using him in the bullpen allows the Blue Jays to maximize value out of player they probably wouldn’t otherwise have a use for come October. But that doesn’t mean he’s the only option the Jays are going to try out as we make our way through the last month of the season. Matt Dermody will likely get a chance (albeit probably in a low-leverage situation to start) with Gibbons continuing to roll out Cecil and Loup in hopes of them reclaiming their past glory.
When Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna suffered just his third blown save of the season Aug. 19 in Cleveland, he was immediately approached by his bullpen mates Jason Grilli and Joaquin Benoit — both 18 years Osuna’s senior.
“They talked to me and said: ‘Hey, don’t worry. Just keep doing your thing,'” said Osuna. “When you hear those things from those guys — they’ve been in the big leagues for a long time — that gives you extra confidence.”
Osuna took the advice to heart and is putting together a record season. On Aug.17, he earned his 27th save, setting a MLB record for most saves before a player’s 22nd birthday with his 47th. And then in Sunday’s comeback win in Tampa Bay, Osuna picked up his 30th save of the season, becoming the youngest pitcher in MLB history to record at least 30 saves in a season. (The previous youngest was Neftali Feliz, who was 22 when he saved his 30th in 2010). Instead of Grilli and Benoit talking to him after the game Sunday, it was his mom who called from Mexico.
“My mom is so happy that I’m going to be in the books forever. It really means a lot,” said Osuna.
“Blown saves happen to everyone, everyone,” Osuna said Monday before the Blue Jays faced the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. “It happened to Mariano Rivera, and Mariano Rivera was the best closer in baseball. So don’t worry, just go out there, don’t give up, be aggressive, do you job, that’s it. Doing this thing at this age is not easy and thank God for letting me to be here and do my job. It really means a lot for me and my family, and I’m going for more.”
Prior to the All-Star break, Saunders was one of the more valuable outfielders — and one of the biggest surprises — in the American League. He appeared in 82 games, hitting .298 with 16 home runs and an OPS of .923. Since then, however, he’s played closer to his career average value.
Entering play against the Rays yesterday, Saunders was hitting .181 since the break (35 games) with a .719 OPS. Perhaps this is turning a corner, though, as dating back to the beginning of the Cleveland Indians series, Saunders has been hitting much better and recently gave the Blue Jays three home runs in five games.
In the big picture with both “halves” balanced, Saunders is still enjoying a career season. With a fWAR of 2.1, he’s on pace to narrowly surpass his previous high of 2.3 from 2012. It’s important to note that this is happening with a BABIP much higher than in 2012 — .335 compared to .297 — but there’s little argument that Saunders’ game has evolved and improved.
“The 2016 All-Star has at least temporarily been displaced by Melvin Upton,” Heyman added, “who has a year to go in Toronto, unlike the others.”
Upton’s presence in 2017 holds real value for the Blue Jays, but given that the majority of his remaining salary from the San Diego Padres trade is being paid this season, his money owed in 2017 will not be nearly enough to push him into a starting role without contest. Kevin Pillar is firmly entrenched in centre-field and Dalton Pompey is poised to be given a shot at a prominent role next season, but assuming Bautista leaves the Blue Jays, or at least leaves right field, there is still room for depth at competition.
The second half of the season has been quite the turn-around for Martin. His average is up to .283, he has 9 HR, 26 RBI, scored 23 runs and always seems to be in the mix of good things happening for the Blue Jays. He had the late, tie breaking home run in Tampa Bay that was a ‘no-doubter’ when it left his bat. It is reminiscent of the big blast he hit against the Yankees in 2015.
Perhaps, the best part of his second half success is the dramatic reduction in strikeouts. He’s recorded just 38 whiffs. Now, the mathematically inclined will point out that that is still (basically) a strike out per game. And, that is true. But, it is more palatable when you combine it with the rest of the production. The Blue Jays are very clear about their acceptance of the strike out, when it it is partnered with big production. It’s how their team is built. They’ll sacrifice some Ks for some big hits.
As Russell Martin has turned his season around, the Blue Jays find themselves at the top of the division. With a star studded lineup such as Toronto has, it would be silly to say that their fortunes are directly linked to those of their catcher. After all, his job is to call the pitching game and play defense. If he chips in with the bat, it is even better. The thing is that, with Martin, the club kind of does see direct dividends when he is hitting.
New Hampshire Fisher Cats (68-73) – 2
Portland Sea Dogs (55-83) – 7
Dwight Smith Jr. continued his hot streak with a pair of doubles, giving him 24 on the season. Richard Urena also doubled in a 1-for-4 day while Christian Lopes was 2-for-5 with an RBI out of the leadoff spot. Rowdy Tellez recorded one walk in three at-bats.
Wilmer Font took the loss for New Hampshire, allowing six runs in six innings on eight hits, including two home runs. He did strike out eight, though, without issuing a walk. Starlyn Suriel picked up with two innings of relief (2.0 IP, ER, 2 K) before Ryan Cook handled a scoreless ninth.
A change in the calendar resulted in a change in fortune for Jones. Bradley Jones went 3-for-5 with a double, a home run and 3 RBI on July 1st. He would increase his batting average to .278 in the first week of July.
In July Jones still experienced some growing pains. He had a 0-for-18 stretch that saw his batting average go from .250 to .202. Overall, Jones fared much better in July.
Bradley Jones really caught fire after going 0-for-6 on August 1st. He was hitting .220 and jut struck out 6 times as Bluefield beat Burlington 6-5 in 13 innings. The next day Jones went 1-for-4 to bump his average to .221. His batting average would never dip below this mark.
August saw the 6’1″, 180 pound Jones hit .346 with 9 home runs, 36 RBI and 11 doubles over 28 games.
Manager Dennis Holmberg been penciling Jones in the 4th and 5th spot in the lineup, behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Holmberg utilized Jones as the clubs primary 1st baseman (35GP) while filling in at 3rd (16GP).
When his fastball command is on, Zeuch can easily mix in his 12-6 curveball, slider, and changeup to keep hitters off-balance. With above-average feel with his curveball that has nice break to it, as well as with his high-80’s slider. The righty can easily make up for the fact that his changeup is still developing.
“My 12-6 curveball helps a lot in terms of keeping hitters timing off,” stated Zeuch. “I think a lot of guys throw sliders so it’s not every day you see a guy throw a 12-6 curveball. There’s a big speed difference between my curveball and fastball so it messes with hitters timing a lot.”
“My slider does a nice job at disrupting timing so hitters can’t just sit on my fastball and curveball,” Zeuch added. “Also having a slider makes it that much harder to guess what’s coming next.”
With a major emphasis on the changeup in professional baseball, there’s no surprise that the Blue Jays coaching staff has already worked with Zeuch at sharpening his feel for the changeup for more success in upcoming seasons.
“My changeup is coming along great,” said Zeuch. “It still has a ways to go, but it’s getting there. Sal Fasano and some of the other roving coaches has helped me with the pitch and it’s getting better every day.”
Improving his changeup will be a major focal point during the Blue Jays Instructional League this fall. Added to the roster in August, Zeuch is looking forward to the extra month of coaching before returning home to Ohio where he’ll condition himself more for next season.
Buffalo Bisons 0, Pawtucket Red Sox 1
Finally seeing a new opponent after five straight losses to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the Bisons’ offense didn’t register a hit until the seventh inning on the way to a 1-0 loss. Quentin Berry got the first hit and Domonic Brown and Andy Burns had the other two.
Scott Copeland was very strong, throwing six innings and giving up one unearned run on three hits with five strikeouts. Aaron Loup (1 IP, 1 K) and Bo Schultz (1 IP) finished the game.
Player of the Game: Scott Copeland