Griffin: Blue Jays new-look outfield and bullpen have their first test
SEATTLE-The Blue Jays on Tuesday, at Safeco Field presented an eclectic mix of what fans might come to expect from their revamped batting order, until the return of injured slugger Jose Bautista. A little bit of this, a little bit of that. Some good things, some bad. Some professional hitting, some undisciplined base running. A veritable smorgasboard of baseball skills and shortcomings...and a 7-2 loss to the M's.
“The last two weeks, we've lost four middle of the order bats, whether that's through injury or trade,” manager John Farrell said. “So we're trying to find a combination to keep some innings alive and look to do some other things where we try to build an inning where we score more than one run.”
The poster-child for the new-look Jays on this night was rookie right fielder Moises Sierra, making his major-league debut after moving up on the organization's outfield depth chart, largely by default. The night before, both Travis Snider and Eric Thames, ahead of him in the organization's outfield rankings had been traded in spearate deals and thus it came to pass that Moises was invited to the promised land.
“We think he has the type of upside to be a Nelson Cruz type player,” GM Alex Anthopoulos said, sparing no hyperbole, earlier in the day. “His skill-set and his tools certainly match that. Obviously he’s not there yet and he has to go out and do it. He’s someone where it’ll be nice to take a look at him.”
In the third inning, Sierra stepped in against M's lefthander Jason Vargas for his first major-league at-bat. With the count 2-2, he fouled off a couple of tough pitches before lining a single to centre field for his first major-league hit. Counting backwards, the last five Jays to record a hit in their first at-bat were Brett Lawrie, J.P. Arencibia, Curtis Thigpen, John-Ford Griffin and Russ Adams.
“He stayed inside the ball well,” Farrell commented. “He fought off a number of pitches and kept the bat in the zone on a changeup for a base hit.”
Following that extremely disciplined bit of hitting by Sierra, Brett Lawrie doubled down the line into the left field corner. The enthusiastic Sierra stumbled coming around second and, undaunted, raced through the clear and present stop sign of third base coach Brian Butterfield as the two men almost brushed shoulders. Even though Sierra scored, that ignoring his coach was a downside of playing with a young, inexperienced lineup.
“Young people coming to the big leagues are revved up,” Butterfield said. “He was stumbling for quite a while, so you don't know if he'll be able to start it up quick enough. You don't take any chances when you're trailing, so my hands went up. We have a lot of guys that are still works in progress. I'm sure he's one of them. It's not that big a deal, but it's something that we will talk about.”
In the meantime, and until Bautista returns, until Adam Lind is back, and with Arencibia on the shelf until September, there will be growing pains and offensive droughts on a daily basis. No doubt, fans will be keeping track of Snider in Pittsburgh. Jays supporters will not be happy, not so much with Snider's 1-for-4 and two runs scored in his debut but in his comments upon arriving in Chicago that “it's nice to be with a winning team.”
One other revamped area of the Jays as the trade deadline disappears in the GM's rearview mirror is the bullpen. Some of the club's perceived newfound riches were on display Tuesday. In the fifth, it was Brandon Lyon, acquired in the J.A. Happ deal from Houston. Lyon was followed in the seventh by righthander Steve Delabar, who had made the short walk between clubhouses the night before, acquired from the M's for Thames. Delabar's is an interesting story of perseverance and he is just happy to be with the Jays.
“I asked my wife, 'You thought last year was kind of crazy and a wild ride, like now this year we've gone to Japan and been back and gone all over, been sent down, back up and now we've been traded midway through ... and who knows what's going to happen the rest of the season,” a smiling Delabar said prior to the game. “Hopefully a playoff run and hopefully a chance to compete for the World Series. It's been an amazing ride. All I can say is it's been a lot of fun so far.”
In his Jays' debut against his former team, the 6-5 righthander faced three M's batters, allowing a one-out single to Kyle Seager then benefitting from a double play on a strikeout and a caught stealing as catcher Jeff Mathis gunned out Seager at second. A successful debut for the guy with a metal plate in his elbow and underdog stories to tell.
Delabar has been out of baseball in 2009, following surgery to repair a broken elbow with a plate and nine screws. He took a job as a supply teacher in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, working at a baseball academy. Then, after his elbow healed, he picked up a baseball again, was signed by the M's and reached the majors last September 11.
“As far as my professional baseball career, it was basically over,” Delabar said. “There wasn't much I could do at 26-27 years-old. 'Hey guys, I've never been above High-A. Do you want to give me a major-league job? It doesn't work like that.
“Every day is always better than the last, right? So, I always look at the positive side of everything. Just being here today is an awesome feeling, (playing) for another team, representing something new. I have a good feeling about it. So, yeah, every day is the best day of my life.”
Maybe the best for some people. This game started off reminding fans why it might have been that Jays' starter Aaron Laffey had been placed on waivers by the Mariners last season. On the very first pitch of the game, a letter-high fastball, Dustin Ackley scorched a line drive home run into the right field seats. The M's stayed aggressive all night.
In the second, with one out, Mike Carp singled, Miguel Olivo doubled to left and Trayvon Robinson and Brendan Ryan each singled home a run. Ackley grounded into a fielder's choice to score Robinson and put the Jays behind by four runs. It matched the most runs allowed by Laffey in any of his seven Jays' starts this year.
In the fourth inning, the bottom of the M's order struck again. Robinson doubled and Ryan singled to left in advance of another run-scoring fielder's choice by Ackley. Laffey's night ended in the fifth, leaving with the bases loaded and two outs after 75 pitches. Lyon entered and immediately disinherited two of those runners on a single by Olivo.
“What got me tonight was not locating the ball,” Laffey said. “If you're throwing quality strikes, then they shouldn't be able to put good wood on the ball, regardless of whether they're hunting heaters early in the count or not. I gave up some hard hit balls and I gave up some balls that were just a step or two out of reach of our guys.
“It's just one of them grinder games where even if you are making your pitches, they're hitting the balls that are just squeaking through holes, staying back on changeups and just punching them into the outfield. Just a tough day. A couple of balls where if they're hit at guys it could be a completely different ballgame.
The Jays are hoping “tomorrow will be better.”