After the rough slide through Baltimore and Tampa to start the season and with the Leafs and Raptors finalizing playoff plans, the home opener may have been robbed of some of its festive sizzle.
The Jays find themselves with a 1-5 record for just the second time in franchise history (2004 was the other) and may catch a break against the 2-4 Brew Crew.
So the Jays will be anxious to grab some of that back on Tuesday, with J.A. Happ, the Jays 20-game winner from a year ago facing Brewers right-hander Wily Peralta amid the bunting and a sellout crowd under the roof.
That home-field buzz has provided a noticeable advantage for the Jays in recent seasons and will be a welcome boost after an extra-long spring training and the early struggles to the games that count.
But for a team looking to make a third consecutive trip to the post-season, manager John Gibbons acknowledged that without a turnaround soon, the Jays could be left “chasing” the season, a tough task in division as stout as the AL East.
“It wasn’t a good trip by any means,” Gibbons said as he surveyed the handful of players who participated in the optional workout. “We were in every game and we could have won every one of them really, but that’s not the game works.
Thank you for all the love and support. It’s truly a dream come true to play for the @BlueJays,
— Casey Lawrence (@caseylawrence) April 11, 2017
Donaldson homered in the first to get his team off on the right foot but while booting it to first on a grounder to deep third base in the sixth, he pulled up awkwardly. Once his momentum stopped, he bent over, grabbed at the right calf he strained early in spring training, walked very slowly back to the dugout and left the game.
Initial word is that he’s day-to-day with tightness, and it seems the Blue Jays got lucky there.
“I’m not worried about it,” said Donaldson, describing the feeling as more of a cramp. “Honestly, I think it’s very realistic I’ll be ready for the home opener (on Tuesday).”
Either way, his cramp was quite the chaser to a week that included two walkoff losses, an eighth-inning blown save, a start by Francisco Liriano that only lasted a third of an inning, a trip to the disabled list for J.P. Howell and only five innings in which they’ve managed to put a crooked number up on the scoreboard.
Still, in four of their five losses they’ve been a swing or a pitch away from a better outcome, and without a body of work to juxtapose the rough week against, 1-5 really stands out.
“Without a doubt,” said Donaldson. “Not so much in the locker-room as it is for being a fan of our team, because you want to see us get off to a good start. We want to get off to a good start. That’s not the case at the moment, but we feel very good about getting back home, playing in front of our fans. We’re looking forward to that and changing the momentum of where it’s at right now.”
Blue Jays reporter Scott MacArthur discusses the Toronto’s brutal 1-5 start and whether Josh Donaldson’s nagging calf injury will be a concern longterm.
This slow start has not been unusual for the Jays under Gibbons. In the last six seasons when he’s managed the Jays through spring training, they have proceeded to play at least two games below .500 into May, with a worst of 10-21 in 2013.
The suggestion has been made that Gibbons does not insist that his key hitters get enough spring at-bats and reps to be ready for nine-inning, five plate-appearance games in April. This was a World Baseball Classic year, with Jose Bautista gone for a couple of weeks to Team Dominican. Devon Travis, Donaldson and Steve Pearce were injured for significant spring stretches.
Despite that, the Jays played 33 Grapefruit League games and the total number of at-bats for healthy regulars was led by Kevin Pillar (58), followed by Justin Smoak (53), Kendrys Morales (48), Troy Tulowitzki (38), Russ Martin (35) and Bautista (29).
“I’m accountable for everything that happens here,” Gibbons said. “There have been people suggesting that maybe (the regulars) don’t play enough in spring training. I don’t discount that.
“With this particular group, the plan going in was for resting guys, make sure they’re ready to get themselves geared up for six months. There’s still some guys that are slow starters anyway, generally. There’s no doubt in my mind these guys are going to hit.”
As was often the case last year, the biggest problem for the Blue Jays has been hitting with runners in scoring position. Granted, the sample size is small, but thus far the team has a .162/.304/.297 slash line with runners in scoring position. In fact, Jose Bautista, Russell Martin, Kevin Pillar, Ezequiel Carrera and Steve Pearce are a combined 0-18 in those situations.
It doesn’t matter how well your starters pitch, or what the bullpen does, if you’re not scoring runs, you’re not going to win many ball games. Thus far, that’s been the problem, with the exception of scoring 8 runs during Friday’s loss, when they also allowed 10 runs.
There are valid reasons for concern, but I don’t think it’s time to hit the panic button just yet. The rotation is healthy and even Liriano, despite his horrific first start, should inspire some confidence after the Grapefruit League performance he had. This is one of the best rotations in baseball, and so far they’ve mostly looked the part.
The Athletic’s Israel Fehr joins Jim Tatti and Marshall Ferguson to recap the Blue Jays ugly opening week of the season. Also, the lack of offensive punch, whether or not big crowds in the dome will fade with bad results and at what point can this team be evaluated.
Osuna dealt with back and neck stiffness late in spring, but had been expected to break camp with the team regardless. Instead, the club placed him on the disabled list with a cervical spasm, back-dating the DL stint to ensure he’d miss just six games.
Osuna saved 36 games in 2016, posting a 2.68 ERA with 82 strikeouts in 74 innings as Toronto’s closer.
The Blue Jays’ bullpen will see its share of turnover this year, especially considering that the group includes an assortment of relievers with options. Dominic Leone, Ryan Tepera and Aaron Loup could all theoretically be sent to triple-A without clearing waivers, though Tepera has pitched four scoreless innings and Loup, the lone lefty in the bullpen with J.P. Howell sidelined, will also be needed on the 25-man roster.
Indeed, since turning pro, Rowdy clearly has worked hard to reshape his body, and according to everything you’ll read he’s made big strides as a defensive player. That’s a huge credit to him, and a huge positive going forward.
Those outside the organization, however, have been much less glowing about him. Part of that is that first base prospects have it tough — unlike shortstops and centre fielders, who can be shifted around the diamond to best accommodate their skillset and the needs of their club, there are only so many spots for a first base prospect to play, and the offensive threshold is high (uh… usually) — and part of it is, I’m sorry to say, that there are legitimate and serious questions about him.
It’s hard to reconcile the notion that fans (and some media) seem to have, that he’s an impact bat waiting to happen, with the fact that, in a middling Jays system, he’s the number five prospect for MLB.com, number six for Baseball America, number eight for both Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs, and number nine for Keith Law.
On every list Tellez is behind Richard Urena, who FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen says he thinks can be a “fringe to average everyday player” with poor on-base skills, as long as he stays at shortstop. On most lists Tellez is behind Conner Greene, who has big velocity but posted some thoroughly uninspiring walk and strikeout totals across two levels in 2016 (51 K and 38 BB in 77.2 IP at High-A Dunedin, and 48 K and 33 BB in 68.2 IP at Double-A New Hampshire).
Troy Tulowitzki: .125/.160/.292 with 1 double, 1 home run, 6 RBI, 1 walk and 4 strikeouts.
The 6 RBI tie him for the team lead, so that’s something, I guess. He had a slow start to last season too, he didn’t get his average to .200 until May 15. I was hoping for a big year from him. I should say I’m still hoping, but I’d like him to get started on it. He had a really tough game yesterday, making a rare error and having the little lapse on the rundown.
Toronto Star baseball columnist joins Scotty Mac to talk about how the Jays can bounce back from a rough start to the 2017 season.
The Blue Jays claiming a guy who plays third base? The first thing that comes to mind is that the team is worried about the health of Josh Donaldson. That could be true, of course, but it seems the addition of Kelly is just depth for the organization in general. Kelly slashed a .328/.409/.435 line over 81 games for Triple-A Las Vegas and a .241/.352/.345 line in 39 games with the Mets in 2016, and has played every position other than pitcher and catcher in his career.
He’ll be depth for the Jays, likely playing in Buffalo. The Jays are paper thin at several positions.
The claim likely won’t impact the major league roster any time soon, but Kelly serves as valuable depth at several positions. He’s played all over the diamond throughout his professional career, but has primarily spent his time at second base, third base, and in the outfield.
The Blue Jays have a talented roster, but their depth chart is certainly boosted with Kelly’s addition. Kelly brings depth all over the place, his biggest value to the organization. He’s only played in 40 Major League games, all coming with the Mets, and has posted a .237/.347/.339 with 1 home run.
Throughout his minor league career, Kelly has appeared in 901 games, with a .280/.381/.380 slash line. He’s not known for bringing much in the way of power, but his versatility brings a bit of value, especially if injuries stack up in a hurry.
Without Howell, the Blue Jays are left with Aaron Loup as the lone lefty in the pen, a scary proposition to say the least. The Jays have used Ryan Tepera against lefties as well, but Loup is the only real “loogy” option, and will face a major test over the next week or two.
The truth is, Howell’s injury might be a blessing for Loup, as the 29 year old wasn’t even a guarantee to make the Blue Jays opening day roster. In fact, had he not been out of minor league options, there’s a good chance he’s pitching in Buffalo right now.
Without Howell on the big league roster, the Blue Jays will have no choice but to turn to Loup to face some important lefties, giving him the opportunity to earn back some trust from manager, John Gibbons. As recently as 2014, Loup was an important piece of the Blue Jays bullpen, finishing that season with a 3.15 ERA in 71 appearances. Since then though, he’s has struggled to remain on a big league roster.
But it turns out, Howell’s shoulder was bothering him as well. On Sunday, the Jays put Howell on the 10-day disabled list with left shoulder strain and called up RHP Dominic Leone from Triple A Buffalo, leaving the Jays with only one LHP in the bullpen.
Howell said the strain isn’t serious and he would pitch if it was late in the season.
“It’s a stiffness thing going on,” Howell said. “I’ve had shoulder surgery before in 2010. It’s nothing like that. It’s one of those things where if I wait a couple of days I’ll benefit a large amount. Trying to pitch through it this early isn’t a smart move.
“I’ve pitched through (stiffness before) and did well, but this is too tight,” added the 33-year-old left-handed pitcher. “I know to pay attention to those things now that I’m getting older. If it was late in the year I could probably go out there and pitch. But right now, no way, it’s a long haul ahead for me to pitch through something like that.”
Howell said he’ll rest the shoulder for a couple of days and then do some strengthening exercises and get back to throwing. He underwent left shoulder surgery in 2010 and missed the entire season and the first two months of the 2011 campaign.
Through the first week of the season, the Arizona Diamondbacks have scored the most runs in baseball with 48. At the other end of that spectrum are the Atlanta Braves with 18 runs. Just above that, 28th in baseball, sit the Jays with 20 runs scored. A slash line of .201/.279/.297 isn’t going to win you many ballgames.
It’s the Jays’ first game at the Rogers Centre since losing Game 5 of the AL Championship Series to Cleveland last October. … Toronto went 46-35 at home last season. … The Jays drew an average home crowd of 41,878 in 2016, tops in the American League and third in all of baseball. … The Jays are 1-5 for just the second time in franchise history (also in 2004). … The struggling Brewers are 2-4. … The teams haven’t met since August, 2014 — a 9-5 Jays win at Miller Park.
For the second game in a row, the Rail Riders jumped all over the Bisons starter in the first inning. The Rail Riders scored 3 runs off of Matt Dermody. Two of those runs came off of a home run by Yankees top prospect Dustin Fowler. Fowler would continue to bring plenty of thunder as he also had a solo homer in the 5th. Dermody would pitch 3 innings and allow 3 earned runs on 4 hits and a walk. Jeff Beliveau would take the ball in the 4th and also have a rough time. He would allow 3 runs in just 2 innings as the Bisons and Rail Riders battled.
The Herd trampled the Rail Riders pitchers in the 4th inning for 6 runs. Jason Leblebijian crushed a 2-run homer during the innings as the Bisons poured it on and took the lead for the time being. The Bisons kept their foot on the gas as they scored 3 more runs in the following innings to maintain the lead. Leblebijian finished the day with 2 hits and 3 RBIs
Dwight Smith Jr. and Ian Parmley both recorded 3 hit performances. Smith had a double among his 3 hits as well as a run scored and an RBI. Parmley scored twice and hit 3 singles. Chris Coghlan had a pair of hits out of the leadoff spot with a double and an RBI.
“The defence was outstanding,” said Meacham, who also managed the Fisher Cats last year. “You can see the defense talking to each other and making good plays. So very important for our pitching staff to have these guys pitch to contact so our defense can play good behind them.”
Smith and Lebleblijian also helped manufacture the non-Tellez related runs with solid hitting.
Smith batted eighth on Saturday going two-for-three with a strikeout and a run while Lebleblijian batted ninth and was one-for two with a walk and a run.
Both players had good offensive numbers in 2016 and could be solid contributors at the plate despite being relative unknowns.
Smith is a former first round draft pick and batted .265/.332/.433 with 15 home runs in 126 games with the Fisher Cats last year.
Lebleblijian, who was drafted in the 25th round in 2012, hit .293/.359/.448 with seven home runs last year with New Hampshire in just half a season.
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