From May 21:
It was an interesting roster move made by the Blue Jays on Monday in time for the Victoria Day game against the Rays, promoting struggling centre-fielder Anthony Gose as an extra bench player to fill in late innings defensively for the hobbled Melky Cabrera in left field and, perhaps, as a pinch-running threat off the bench. Interesting because even Gose himself was shocked at the move.
Suspicions are that the Gose move may be short-lived, with Rajai Davis soon ready to return from the disabled list. However, the stint, no matter how brief, was not a bad thing for the 22-year-old speedster in terms of clearing his head of hitting woes at Triple-A Buffalo, reuniting him briefly with hitting coach Chad Mottola who was with him at Triple-A Las Vegas in 2012 and spring training this year.
“It’s like a fresh start,” Gose said. “You wake up and it’s like a new scenery, everything’s new, you-start-from-scratch type deal. It’s one of those things that kind of erases everything, start fresh, deep breath, let’s go. That’s over, it’s done, let’s move on, we’re here, let’s play and be ready to go.”
At the end of the Jays’ season last year, Gose, following a dramatic September improvement at the major-league level, must have, deep in his heart, considered that he had an opportunity in 2013 to take the next step and play in the majors. Then the Jays went out and signed Melky Cabrera to a two-year deal and with Davis already on board as the fourth outfielder and with the versatility of Emilio Bonifacio, that door quickly slammed in the face of the confident California native.
The body blows continued. On Day 1 of camp, the GM Alex Anthopoulos and manager John Gibbons told Gose emphatically that he would be Buffalo bound, barring injuries. After the Jays obtained Gose from the Astros in July of ’09, they suggested publicly that he needed probably another 1,500 plate appearances before he was truly prepared to play in the major leagues. Gose is close to that total, sitting on 1,362 minor-league PAs in the Jays’ system. He’s very close, but Anthopoulos has emphasized all along that when he finally arrives, it’s not to sit on the bench. He will play. This is not that time. Gose needs to understand, but it’s tough for someone that has not suffered failure very often.
“I knew this year because of everything that had taken place, that there wasn’t a spot for me, I didn’t do enough last year,” Gose admitted. “I wasn’t just going to double-jump Triple-A (in 2012). I was going to go there. When I left (last) season, I thought I probably had a chance to compete, then obviously things happened. There was not a spot. I obviously didn’t do enough.”
It was a good thing on a personal basis on Monday for Gose to not only get in the game defensively, with a four-run lead in the eighth, but also to draw his first at-bat as the inning stayed alive with a Mune Kawasaki triple. Even a short fly ball to left field by Gose did not curb his enthusiasm.
“I think that setting in there today, getting that at-bat it was like Opening Day again for me,” Gose said. “Somewhere new, like a fresh start. It was really good for me. It was like something different, something new, let’s pick it back up and let’s go. We’ve got good crowds in Buffalo, but obviously everybody knows there’s nothing like being in the big leagues.”
If this indeed turns into a short term move for Gose, which is likely, it may pay off for him and the organization simply in being able to press that reset button to a staggering season.
THE WEEK THAT WAS
From the Giants to the Rays: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. After crushing the World Series champion Giants in consecutive interleague games on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Jays travelled on another off-day Thursday to New York, where they looked weak and ineffectual in losing a pair to their betes pinstripe the Yankees, with Hiroki Kuroda and David Phelps doing the job.
Luckily for the Jays, Sunday’s series finale was rained out and will be re-scheduled later in the summer. That may not actually seem like a break for the Jays since the Yankees will likely have many of their walking wounded back by that time, but who cares. The Jays have not been able to handle the Yankee fill-ins, being crushed on a daily basis by Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay, Jayson Nix and others that even the ghosts of Monument Park are checking their programs to identify. The Jays then bounced back and won on Victoria Day to give them a winning long week record of 3-2 and some hope.
The two off-days and the rainout in the space of seven days has also allowed the Jays to regroup in terms of the starting rotation. They now have options for the rest of the week rather than bringing in the best of an unprepared lot to fill in starting roles after the injuries to Josh Johnson and J.A. Happ.
In fact, the 29-year-old Johnson finally got back on the mound on Monday at Single-A Dunedin, pitching three innings vs. St. Lucie, allowing one run on three hits with no walks and five strikeouts. The rainout meant that the Jays did not have to pitch Ramon Ortiz and Chad Jenkins back-to-back on Monday and Tuesday, going instead with R.A. Dickey and Ortiz, who has been a pleasant surprise.
That means the rotation spots that need to be filled are this Friday vs. the O’s and on May 29 at Atlanta in inter-league play. Friday’s viable options at the Rogers Centre are Jenkins, who has now not pitched since May 12 at Boston, a surprisingly effective five innings with just one 2013 minor-league start under his belt and 23-year-old left-hander Sean Nolin, who was on AA’s end-of-spring Top 10 list of Jays’ starting options until he was injured and set back. He’s ready to go now, making two straight six-inning shutout starts at Double-A New Hampshire. The O’s are susceptible to left-handers.
If Johnson makes one more minor-league start, maybe even on his fourth day after Monday’s debut, this Friday, then he could be ready to go vs. the Braves, an opponent and a venue with which he is familiar. Plus he is used to swinging the bat unlike most AL pitchers. With Ortiz being a pleasant surprise, that would help the Jays tremendously as they strive to put together a significant win streak.
By the way, check out this quirky feature from SI.com on Minenori Kawasaki.
Affeldt shines spotlight on others: There was a moment in Jeremy Affeldt’s childhood travels as a military brat that would help explain his ongoing passion for battling the blight that is human trafficking.
His military father was stationed in Guam and the Affeldt family was on vacation in Thailand. Jeremy was walking with the innocent curiosity of a tourist, a child, through the streets when a stranger tried to jostle him through an open doorway in one of the city’s sex-trade entertainment districts. His father quickly intervened, potentially saving him from being kidnapped and being sold to slavery.
When Affeldt signed with the Giants as a free agent in 2009, his concern for others turned towards the worldwide fight against human trafficking. That childhood memory stayed with him.
“At the time you didn’t know it, so it wasn’t like I had that memory oh, I almost got abducted, so I had this passion for (fighting) human trafficking,” Affeldt said prior to a Giants game vs. the Jays at the Rogers Centre. “For me it was just when I started doing a lot of poverty stuff in Kansas City and I started doing some stuff with hunger initiatives, then I got into some more things with another organization.”
Affeldt, 33, one of the most effective left-handed relievers in baseball, with two World Series rings to show for a 12-year MLB career, has written a book about his causes and about his life. The title of the book is To Stir A Movement: Life, Justice, and Major League Baseball. As much as being Affeldt’s autobiography, it is the story of his evolution from unaware ballplayer to activist.
“I was just like everybody else,” Affeldt recalled of the light switch being flipped. “It was ‘Wait a minute, there’s slavery? I thought that ended in the Civil War,’ type stuff. You start seeing more and more of it, everywhere we went we’d do food initiatives or well-digging. In any of the poverty areas, we would always see trafficking, even in the United States, there’d be trafficking issues.”
Affeldt began efforts with his own charity in Kansas City and then reached out to other organizations that sparked his compassion. Through his own youth ministry, Generation Alive, the strong, non-judgmental Christian now also works with Not For Sale, an organization dedicated to fighting human trafficking. Affeldt helps the hungry, thirsty and disadvantaged by partnering with groups such as Something to Eat, the Global Orphan Project, Living Water International and One World Futbol.
“We do some hunger stuff, we do well digging, we do orphanage building and as I started putting in wells, in places like Africa and some poverty-troubled countries you could see and when you read about it there’s always trafficking issues in those areas. I didn’t really understand.
“In the U.S., it’s a money deal. There’s a lot of money in it. You go to anywhere where there’s big ports, New York or Miami, Atlanta there’s a huge international airport that gets overseas in a hurry, you can move these women in and out on the black market.”
So the question becomes how can outside groups make a difference with human trafficking when the organizers seem to have all the angles of invisibility figured out?
“Smart advocacy for us,” Affeldt explained. “We don’t want to be in guns a-blazin’. You’re messing with Mafia stuff here, so they’re going to shoot back. There are groups that do it very well. Access Road does it very well. You go in and rescue. We rescue but we try to provide opportunities.
“There’s a woman we met who’s rescuing children at a trafficking centre in Thailand by going into the karaoke bars, running in after the kids were let out and the men would fondle them. She’d run in grab the kids and go out the back door. She’d hide them in the jungle. ‘Let’s do a better job.’ So we built her a village, a home and we gave her a library, a basketball court, she can house about 250 kids. We provide them with opportunities at schooling, food. Kids can come and live there, get out of it.”
Certainly today’s modern athletes can, and often do, improve their sports skills with age and experience, but is it any coincidence that Affeldt’s own career, his personal statistics, his satisfaction with his life, all improved after he threw himself heart and soul into helping to improve the human condition, using his platform as a high-profile professional athlete? He knows there is a connection.
“I finally understood my success, or the reason that I did what I did,” Affeldt said. “If I was just being a baseball player, then that’s a really shallow thing for me. I got really bored in the sense that, okay, I fail I hate it, but it’s a game based on failure.
“You always have a hard time failing, but when you succeed it’s almost like, uhh, for what? You can succeed and be glad you do your job, but then you come off (the field) and it’s like, I don’t understand what I’m succeeding for. When I found I could use my platform of baseball with other initiatives like hunger or well-digging or human trafficking, all of a sudden, my reason to succeed had purpose. If I could help in some way, shape or form, that gave me a reason to go out and play.”
In terms of real-life issues, baseball is just a game with no tangible contributions to society at the end of the day, so Affeldt before his personal epiphany, found himself at a crossroads in K.C. playing on bad teams. Like a good method actor, he kept asking what should be his motivation.
“In Kansas City when you lose 100 games a year, you have no idea why you’re out there and if I didn’t have any thought of doing anything with my career except going to the ballpark every day and getting my butt kicked, you’re not really going to succeed a whole lot.
“When I got traded and I got put on a better team, I started finding reasons to enjoy the game of baseball. My success went up because it was like I had a purpose. Now I understand what I’m doing. Now I’m dedicated to being the best for a reason, not just to say I was a good baseball player, because if that’s all I’m known for, that’s not going to happen.
“If all my kids know me for is as a baseball player, that’s a shallow life for my sons and I can’t allow that to happen. I know a lot of good players and if you retire, five minutes after you retire, they don’t know who you are, so what was the purpose of being out there 10-15 years.”
His three sons were a constant joy for Affeldt throughout our conversation. His legacy of being a difference maker off the field drives him more than winning another Series.
“I took my oldest son, my 5 1/2 year-old; he came with me to one of our food initiatives and helped package meals and I told him why we were doing it,” Affeldt recalled. “He sat with me the other day and said, ‘Dad, I think we need to go feed more people who don’t have food. I like doing that.’
“I take him to these things but I don’t shove it down his throat. Then out of the blue he said that and I said, ‘Oh we will son, we will.’ I’m just trying to get my sons to understand that whatever you’re gifted at, your success is not going to be necessarily in becoming the most successful or wealthiest this or best that. If you think only about yourself, you’ll be a very lonely person.”
For Affeldt, his success on the field now means more opportunities to make a difference, a bigger platform to present his charitable causes to the rest of the world.
“When I succeed out there, the more I succeed out there the bigger the platform is to do what I do off the field,” Affeldt said. “The doors to me now that are open, because of the resume that I’ve been thankfully able to put together. That’s what I enjoy the most.
“I love it out here, don’t get me wrong, but being able to help out and to speak out . . . I mean I’ve been on the same platform as the Duchess of York. I’ve been on the same platform as some of the key iconic spiritual leaders in the U.S. — Francis Chan, (John) Ortberg. I’ve been able to stand with these guys and be able to speak on some of these issues because of the platform that I have.
“That’s why I want to succeed. I want my kids to be able to say, my dad didn’t just play major-league baseball. My dad played major-league baseball, but he used baseball to help people in need and that’s a ‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’ scenario.”
Affeldt has become a man for all reasons.
DOWN ON THE FARM
The Jays made some significant pitching roster moves this past week at the upper levels, promoting some and sending others who are struggling down to levels they are more likely to handle.
Fresh pitching blood at Triple-A Buffalo in the past two weeks include RHP Dustin McGowan, on injury rehab option, RHP John Stilson, a third rounder from the 2011 draft who had been invited to Jays camp, RHP Michael Schwimmer, reinstated from the DL who has MLB experience with the Phillies, and RHP Jeremy Jeffress, promoted from Dunedin to bolster the Bisons’ pen.
At Double-A New Hampshire, the key additions to the rotation were LHP Sean Nolin and RHP Marcus Stroman, with bullpen additions, RHP Dustin Antolin and RHP Scott Gracey. Also sent down to A-Dunedin from the Fisher Cats was starter RHP Austin Bibens-Dirkx.
Once again, we realize that McGowan is battling the odds, attempting an unlikely and courageous comeback to the major leagues at the age of 31. He’s been there many times before and continues to persevere. The former No. 1 pick for the Jays in 2000, has managed just 66 1/3 total innings in four-plus seasons since July 8, 2006 including 21 innings with the Jays in Sept. 2011. The list of surgeries include shoulder (twice), knee and a Tommy John surgery long ago.
Stroman returns with a bang: Dynamic 22-year-old right-hander Marcus Stroman finally ended his 50-game suspension for taking a banned stimulant under the minor-league drug program. On the exact day he became eligible, Sunday, May 19, Stroman made the start for the Fisher Cats at New Britain, pitching five shutout innings, allowing four hits, with a walk and six strikeouts. Stroman made sure that New Britain knew he was back after his 50 games off, drilling their leadoff hitter to open the game before striking out the next two batters and retiring the side in order.
“He’s a starter right now,” Jays’ assistant GM Andrew Tinnish told MLB.com. “He’s shown the ability to throw four pitches. I think there’s a lot of quality on all four of them. His changeup is something that’s developed in the last year. He’s not a tall guy, as we all know, but he’s athletic, and he has a quick arm. When he commands his fastball, which he’s been doing, and keeps it down in the zone, it makes his secondary stuff that much better.”
Stroman was projected at the time of the draft in June 2012 as the most likely to become the first prospect to reach the majors, perhaps even in Sept. 2012, but the suspension in late August ended that dream. Now with his additional command of the changeup, giving him a major-league deep repertoire of four, and with injuries and failures of other organization starters, the Duke University product has a chance to be in the Jays’ mix very soon at the major-league level.
The four levels of the Jays’ farm system already in action have combined for a record of 91-79, with two of the four clubs in first place in their division.
Triple-A Buffalo (25-18): Have slowed down in their torrid pace but still lead the IL North
Double-A New Hampshire (23-22): Remain hot with some impressive pitching and have risen above .500 in fourth place in the EL Eastern Division...but streaking
A-Dunedin (25-16): In first place in the FSL North with a 3.5 game lead over Brevard County.
A-Lansing (18-23): Eight games out in the MWL East. Lugnuts have won 8 of last 10.
The rant: At the start of spring training, some people sincerely believed the 3-4 combo in the Jays lineup of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion might be on the verge of becoming as potent as any middle-of-the-order pairing in the AL —as sound, even, as Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. I believe I’m on this current rant because I was one of those. It’s no contest for the Tigers’ dynamic duo.
Using some of the more traditional old-school stats as a gauge, Bautista and Encarnacion have combined in 2013 for 74 hits, 13 doubles, 21 homers and 56 RBIs. Bautista has posted a .878 OPS while Encarnacion sits 26th overall in the AL at .838.
On the other hand, Cabrera and Fielder for the Tigers have combined for 110 hits, 23 doubles, one triple, 20 homers and 84 RBIs. Cabrera’s OPS is 1.116, while Fielder checks on at No. 5 in the AL with .929. The Tiger twosome has produced 119 runs compared to 84 for the Jays. Nolo contendre.
Is that mid-order performance one of the reasons, perhaps, the Jays have not lived up to early-season expectations? Yes, the home runs have been there for Joey Bats and EE, but they need more clutch moments like Encarnacion’s bases-clearing rocket off the left field wall on Monday vs. the Rays.
The good news is that Bautista’s wrist problem from last summer seems a thing of the past. But the heart of the Jays’ order needs to become the heart of the Jays if they want to be seen as contenders again.
With J.P. Arencibia seemingly installed as the catcher of the present and future, here is a list of the Top 5 Blue Jays catchers in games played in club history, since 1977.
1. Ernie Whitt 1159 1977-89
2. Pat Borders 691 1988-94, 1999
3. Darrin Fletcher 516 1998-02
4. Gregg Zaun 483 2004-08
5. Buck Martinez 441 1981-86
Active leader: J.P. Arencibia 261 2010-13
MLB NOTES April 29 – May 6
Orioles bullpen pulls disappearing act: The O’s were unbeatable in late innings last year, leading to a surprise playoff berth, but this year the magic is not the same. On Monday, close Jim Johnson blew his third straight save on the way to a sixth straight loss for the O’s, this one 6-4 to the Yankees. Manager Buck Showalter continued to show his support for his closer after the game, but Johnson understands he has to be better.
“Well, three of them are my fault,” Johnson told O’s reporters. “The other guys do their job and I do mine, then we’re not standing here (talking to the media). I think everybody’s doing a great job. I’m just not pulling my weight. And I’ll figure it out.”
Danks ready for his closeup: White Sox lefthander John Danks looks ready to return to the ranks of the active on Friday from a left shoulder injury. He has made four minor league starts but has not been on a major-league mound since May 19, 2012 in a win over the Cubs.
“We’ll have a plan midweek and announce what the next step will be,” Chisox general manager Rick Hahn told reporters. “We’ll have him around for the next couple days, probably throw a (side session) with (pitching coach Don Cooper).”
Former Jay Yan Gomes shines: On Monday vs. the M’s, former Jays’ catcher Yan Gomes clubbed a three-run walkoff homer in the 10th inning for the Indians win. It was Gomes’ second homer of the game and his fifth of the season. Gomes, with the Jays in 2012, had become the first Brazilian-born player to reach the major-leagues.
Canadian Kottaras may get his opportunity: The Royals were concerned on Monday when catcher Sal Perez was removed from the game with discomfort in his right hip. He was replaced by backup catcher George Kottaras, a 30-year-old Scarborough native.
THIS DATE IN BASEBALL HISTORY
May 21:1997 -Roger Clemens, 34, recorded win No. 8 in a row for the Jays, also career win 200 ... 1983 – Cliff Johnson of the Blue Jays slams his 18th career pinch-hit home run off Tippy Martinez of the O’s tying Jerry Lynch on the all-time list ... May 23: 1991 – Phils right-hander Tommy Greene twirls a no-hitter vs. the Expos at Olympic Stadium ... May 24:1935 The Reds host the Phillies in the first night game in major league history. President Franklin Roosevelt was invited to flip the switch from the White House. Ben Chapman reached base seven times on two doubles and five walks, setting a record for a night game ... May 25: 1989 – The M’s trade the expiring contract of lefthander Mark Langston to Montreal for lefthander Randy Johnson and a pair of right-handers, Brian Holman and Gene Harris. The Expos were on the verge of signing Langston in August when the season fell apart and they finished at 81-81. He abandoned ship and signed with the Angels ... 1982 Canadian right-hander Ferguson Jenkins of the Cubs records career strikeout No. 3,000 fanning Garry Templeton of the Padres in San Diego ... 1984 Bill Buckner had already lost his first-base job to Leon Durham with the Cubs, so he was traded to the Red Sox for Dennis Eckersley and Mike Brumley. ... May 26: 1993 – The infamous home run off the head of Jose Canseco occurred on this date. The ball was hit by Cleveland’s Carlos Martinez ... 1959 – Harvey Haddix of the Pirates throws 12 perfect innings but Lew Burdette of the Braves matches his shutout innings. The Braves score a run in the 13th to spoil the history setting start ... May 27: 1968 – The NL grants expansion franchises to Montreal and San Diego.
MLB POWER RANKINGS (as of May 20)
TEAM, Last Week’s ranking, Start of Spring ranking
1. Texas Rangers (1, 6)
2. St. Louis Cardinals (2, 13)
3. New York Yankees (3, 14)
4. Boston Red Sox (7, 16)
5. Atlanta Braves (8, 2)
6. Cleveland Indians (10, 20)
7. Detroit Tigers (6, 7)
8. Cincinnati Reds (11, 9)
9. Pittsburgh Pirates (12, 28)
10. Baltimore Orioles (5, 11)
11. Washington Nationals (9, 4)
12. San Francisco Giants (4, 1)
13. Arizona Diamondbacks (14, 17)
14. Kansas City Royals (13, 18)
15. Tampa Bay Rays (17, 10)
16. Colorado Rockies (16, 25)
17. Oakland A’s (18, 8)
18. Chicago White Sox (19, 19)
19. Minnesota Twins (15, 26)
20. Seattle Mariners (20, 21)
21. Philadelphia Phillies (24, 15)
22. Chicago Cubs (26, 24)
23. Milwaukee Brewers (21, 22)
24. Los Angeles Dodgers (23, 5)
25. New York Mets (22, 27)
26. San Diego Padres (25, 23)
27. Los Angeles Angels (27, 12)
28. Toronto Blue Jays (28, 3)
29. Houston Astros (29, 30)
30. Miami Marlins (30, 29)
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
There wasn’t much “on the road” news to report in a week pretty much spent at home, after returning from Boston last Monday just as the Leafs and Bruins clashed back in Beantown. But one thing struck me. What seemed like a strange coincidence came to pass after the San Francisco Giants’ visit. San Francisco arrived in town with Pablo Sandoval, their own Kung-Fu Panda. Was it coincidence that when the Giants left town, the Toronto Zoo picked up a pair of giant pandas of their own, Da Mao and Er Shun. In addition, and more eerily, as San Francisco was leaving, a rare earthquake shook parts of the city. Strange days indeed. And the Jays are 3-2 since the Leafs lost Game 7 to the Bruins.