Blue Jays mail bag
It was a tough night for the Jays on Tuesday. Just as the they were getting healthy around the diamond and defining roles with Shannon Stewart, Matt Stairs, Adam Lind and most especially at shortstop with David Eckstein dropping to ninth in the order and being relieved late in games when they have a lead by the sublime defender John McDonald, just when all that is happening, the injury bug strikes again. We’ll see what these guys are made of now as they wait for both shortstops to get healthy. Now on to the mail bag.
Q: Hey Richard,
Is it time to replace B.J. Ryan yet? Each game he saves seems like an absolute marathon.
Also, with the way the Jays are pitching, is this the best rotation we've ever had? How would you compare it to the ‘92 rotation (Jack Morris/David Cone/Jimmy Key/Juan Guzman)?
Wayne L, Richmond Hill
A: No it is not time to replace B.J. Ryan. To a man, the Jays’ other bullpen guys and his teammates insist that when B.J. swings through that bullpen gate and runs out to the mound for the ninth inning, the whole team is energized. Ryan is still a couple of days shy of his one-year anniversary for his Tommy John surgery (May 10), so what he has done since rejoining the Jays has been nothing short of amazing. He is Batman to Jeremy Accardo’s Robin except they both wear their underwear inside their pants.
The Phillies graciously release Pat Gillick from his contract. For the sake of God, king and country Gillick and Cito (Gaston) agree to run the Jays for the remainder of the season. Gillick reacquires Reed Johnson from the Cubs. Johnson and Adam Lind will platoon in left and bat eighth. Gillick next jettisons (David) Eckstein while Cito reinstalls Johnny Mac at short. Mac will bat ninth. Aaron Hill discovers the knack of getting on base batting leadoff. David Purcey continues to pitch lights out in Syracuse, ready if Jesse Litsch should self-destruct. And miracle of miracle, the bats come alive. It's now Labour Day. "Hey, what's going on here; what's wrong?" Sorry, Richard, my #$% ^&*@ alarm clock just went off. Oh well!
Ben Prestianni, Newark, DE
A: That’s quite a dream you had, Ben, mixing as it does the Ghosts of Blue Jays past, with a smattering of Jays, present and future. Since it’s only a dream, why not have Gillick bring Jimmy Rollins with him to play shortstop since both Eck and Johnny Mac went down with injuries on Tuesday night in a nightmare scenario. That would take care of the leadoff spot and allow Hill to remain in the middle of the order where he belongs.
It would be nice to see Cito get another chance to manage, but I’m not sure Gillick would be as dreamy for the Jays as you imagine. Purcey really looks like he’s finally a factor down on the farm and there will surely be a starting pitching injury that will open the door and give him another opportunity some time this season.
How much longer will David Eckstein’s contract deem him worthy of starting? A punch-less bat and poor glove at SS is a combination no playoff-craving team can live with. If the difference between hitting .250 and .300 in the big-leagues is one hit a week (as laid out in Bull Durham), surely Johnny Mac balances that out by taking away at least one hit a week on defence. It's not like Eckstein is hitting anywhere near .300 anyway.
Mike Shara, Niagara on the Lake
A: The whole shortstop question will be on hold for a while in the wake of injuries to Eckstein (hip flexor) and McDonald (right ankle). It was interesting already how the shortstop position had evolved. Eckstein had gone from a nine-inning guy batting leadoff to batting ninth and about to be replaced in late innings when the Jays had the lead. That’s after only a month and a week. Since Eckstein is only on a one-year deal and since the Jays’ mandate this year is to win at all costs and since the starting pitching has been so outstanding, it makes sense in some quarters to maximize your defence at the most important infield position. Whenever it is that Eck and Mac return healthy, it will be interesting to see how this situation continues to evolve. Nobody with the Jays owes Eckstein anything, but the fact is he is a veteran, has two World Series rings and a Series MVP and does have true grit. But he also has a noodle arm and limited range.
I have a quick question re: Lyle Overbay. Traditionally, first base has always been a power-hitting position. Can the Jays truly be an offensive threat when the first baseman is on pace for a six home run, 42 RBI year?
He's not a power hitter but he’s also no John Olerud.
Mike Ritchie, Toronto
A: That’s like Springsteen’s classic line from Thunder Road… “You ain’t a beauty but, hey, you’re alright.” That’s Lyle Overbay in a nutshell. He’s not Keith Hernandez defensively. He’s not Carlos Delgado power-wise. He’s not John Olerud hitting for average. But, hey, he’s alright.
There are winning teams that carry non-power hitters in traditional power-hitting positions by having power hitters in traditionally non-power-hitting positions. Scott Rolen is not a true power hitter and neither is Hill, but in the outfield, potentially the Jays have two 25-plus homer guys and if Matt Stairs plays every day and swings from his ass every time up, then Overbay’s lack of home run power can be slightly overlooked. Don’t forget, at his best he’s a 40-plus doubles guy which ain’t half-bad. Now if only they could find a leadoff guy who was “born to run.”
Q: Will the Jays attempt to put Travis Snider in the 1B position when he makes it to the bigs? It works out quite well with Lyle Overbay moving out around the time he joins.
Garry Lam, North York
A: That sounds like an excellent idea and there is still time to make the transition even as he continues to play the outfield at Double-A. Snider is a can’t-miss hitting prospect with nice power potential. What has amazed many scouts is his underrated ability as a defender in the outfield. When Snider was drafted, he was projected as a left fielder or DH. Now, the feeling is that he could play right field as well. However, with Alex Rios signed for the long term and Wells in centre, it seems that left field - or first base - could be his ultimate landing spot in the majors. The only caveat there is that his listed height of 5-foot-11 is a lie. He is no taller than 5-9. Mike Aldrete was an excellent first baseman at that height, as was Ron Fairly, back in the day, but it is a handicap for a first baseman.
Q: What about this kid Jesse Carlson? What do you think of him; long term up in the big leagues?
Dave Franco, Berlin
A: I was talking to a scout in the press box at Fenway Park and he was stunned at how Jesse Carlson had become a go-to guy for Gibbons in game situations. He said that all the scouts he talked to when Carlson was in the minors agreed that he was not a premium prospect. Even at Double-A New Hampshire last year, he allowed more hits than innings and had a 4.86 ERA in 58 relief appearances. Four organizations, including the Jays in a previous life, had thought so little of him that they let him become a free agent. So, what has this guy got going for him now that defies scout logic and statistical history? Well, he’s pounding the strike zone, getting ahead in the count. He has a funky delivery across his body that is deceptive to left-handed batters. He has averaged well over a strikeout per inning pitched. And he has no fear. Put that all together and you have a left-handed relief specialist that could hang around for a long, long time. See guys like Trever Miller.
Q: Hi Richard, just wondering. Am I the only one who sees that (Lyle) Overbay, (Aaron) Hill and (Vernon) Wells are all trying to pull, with the result that they “open” too soon, resulting in weak flies to the opposite field or tapped grounders. Occasionally Rios is guilty of the same offence but he is much improved in this respect. None of these players are pure power hitters although all hit the ball hard - when they hit the ball “where it is pitched.” Please guys, leave “pulling for the fences” to the big guys and take advantage of your natural strengths. After all, power hitting is the result of timing - not power. Ask Henry Aaron, Willy Mays, Hack Wilson and other "un-huge" hitters who had many years of outstanding power production.
Charles Bernard, St. Catharines
A: Being anxious is what leads to jumping at pitches and opening up too early. That’s what slumps are all about. You fail for a few games, then that leads to anxiety, which leads to tension in the body, which leads to spastic looking swings that you describe.
Wells, for one, has begun to relax and stay closed and drive the ball hard to right and right-centre. Overbay is getting there and Hill began the season on a roll and is now trying too hard. It may have something to do with the obvious mental block he has about hitting at or near the top of a major-league batting order. In any case, hitting coach Gary Denbo certainly sees the same thing, but it’s one thing to tell a guy what he’s doing wrong and quite another to have him be able to correct it.
The Jays are not going to be a home-run hitting team, now or in the immediate future. They can be a great doubles-hitting team, led by Wells, Overbay, Hill and Rios. Be happy with that and just stay within yourself, doing what you do best. Maybe a little HGH cocktail is in order for some of these guys. (No, no. Don’t call. That’s just a joke, Bud).
Q: Hey Richard,
You mentioned last week that some readers hate it when you mention your days with the Expos as a PR guy. I, on the other hand, think those stories are a great illustration of how major league baseball got started in Canada. Even though I'm from Toronto, I realize it's not the center of the universe. On to my question, why can't the Jays score when Roy Halladay is pitching? He's pitching complete games and we can't seem to get the guy a run.
Ray Y, Toronto
A: Ah, Ray. That question reminds me of back in the day in La Belle Province - when it was still belle - when Steve Rogers could never catch a break for the Expos in terms of run support. Ah, yes. There I was, pee-arr-ing my butt off for Canada’s first ever major-league team and I would often look up at Canada’s first ever retractable roof at Stade Olympique, Canada’s first ever stadium to host an Olympics and say, “Hawk, why can’t we score any runs for Cy?” Ah, matey, those was the days. Hoist a pint of cinquante and drink a toast to nos amours.
But seriously, the Halladay question is a good one. I believe that when a dominating ace like Halladay goes to the mound, his team believes all they need to do is manufacture a couple of runs and they will win. They focus so much on getting one run that they miss their chances at a big inning. Before you know it, you’re trailing 2-1 and now are forced to play for a run. It’s a case of the lineup looking at the pitcher and unconsciously being comfortable that Doc will win it for us.
Q: I don't really follow any other teams close enough to know the answer to this, so I'm coming to you. Of the several things that Gibby does that irk me, I think the one I have the most problems with is his tendency to not start regulars. Today, for example, he is sitting Rolen; the healthy, and good hitting Rolen, one of the few productive guys in the last stretch of games. All this in favour of Marco Scutaro, who I'll just say is no Rolen. He often sits players seemingly just because he feels like it. So do other managers sit their all-star players as much as they get sat here?
Graham Harvey, Toronto
A: I agree with you that this is an ongoing modus operandi for Gibbons. I also agree that early in the season, in April or May, that if healthy, your star players should play every day. There are going to be times during 162 games when your stars will be beat up or nicked and will seriously need a day off, but in the cool weather of the first two months of the season when they are still physically fresh, asking them to play every night for three hours when a win in April is as important as a win in September - that’s not asking too much.
It’s like Rios, earlier in the year. He was given a day off after a flight, then got flu-like symptoms the next day and had to miss another one. Rolen was on a seven-game hitting streak, sat for a night, then went hitless the next day. Granted, Marco Scutaro homered as the starting third baseman, but keeping Rolen rollin’ was more important.
The Jays bench is not built for anything but filling in. Sure, Rod Barajas and Gregg Zaun can split time, the same with Eckstein and McDonald and Lind and Shannon Stewart, but your stars should be asked to shine every night they are able to. It’s tough to compare what other managers do, because we’re not there to see the physical reasons for their stars sitting out.
The purpose of inter-league play appeared to be to increase the exposure of National League teams to American League cities and vice-versa and introducing some novelty to the mundane 162-game schedule. While I do enjoy watching a team like the Cubs visit Toronto, I frankly couldn't care less to see the Reds or many other National League teams (I'm sure the Jays are viewed the same way in most NL cities). I think an interesting way to spice up inter-league play would be to have NL rules played in the AL ballbark and AL rules in the NL ballpark. I'd love to watch Roy Halladay take a cut at the Rogers Centre. What do you think of this idea?
Brian Baum, Toronto
A: I agree that all teams dread seeing the Jays come to their town for inter-league play. They are gate-busters when it comes to attendance. I think that teams with natural rivalries (e.g. Angels/Dodgers, Cubs/White Sox, A’s/Giants, Yankees/Mets) should still play home-and-home series in inter-league play, while the other teams can opt out of inter-league just add those games within their own divisions.
I’m sure that Jays fans would rather see two more vs. the Red Sox than three against the Brewers. Besides, wasn’t part of the attraction of inter-league play that fans can get to see stars from the other league that they would not normally see? Look at the natural rivalries. Are you telling me that a Cubs fan can’t get on the subway and head to the South Side if they want to see Jim Thome play? Attendance is healthy again. Fans with the baseball package can see every team play on TV and inter-league play has run its course.
As for using the pitcher as a hitter in AL parks, the Jays allowed their pitchers to take early batting practice earlier this week and, trust me, you do not want to pay money to see Roy Halladay swing the bat. If they gave him a base hit every time a ball got out of the cage, he was still hitting under .200.
Q: Richard buddy, I have a general baseball question for you. Do you know when the WBC tickets will be going on sale for the games at the SkyDome (or unfortunately now known as the Rogers Centre) or at least when that date will be announced? If you could let me know that'd be awesome, and also maybe your opinion on how hard tickets will be to get. Thanks a lot.
Chris M., North Bay
A: I put in a call to the Jays’ Hall-of-Fame P.R. man Howie Starkman at the team’s offices. He said to look out on MLB.com for news on the initial sale of tickets for the Toronto games. That ticket availability through major-league baseball would come first, with local sales coming later. There will be a release on the WBC tickets later this month.
Click here to send Richard a question, and he'll answer a selection in his mailbag Wednesdays in this space.