Griffin: Eric Thames homers against his former team as M's sweep Blue Jays
SEATTLE-He has been the Jays' most reliable starter with four wins in July, but Carlos Villanueva was unable to hold a fifth-inning lead on Wednesday, allowing a homer to tie the game and one more in the sixth to trail for good. The way the Jays have hit on this trip to the Emerald City, it was all but over. The Jays' 5-3 defeat is their third in a row dropping them two games under .500.
The result certainly can't be that the Jays didn't have a solid scouting report on the Mariners' new left fielder. Drafted by the Jays in 2008, then working his way through the farm system, it didn;t take long for Eric Thames come back to haunt his former team in his first start in a new uniform.
The Santa Clara, CA, native traded for reliever Steve Delabar at the trade deadline had robbed Anthony Gose with a sprawling catch racing in in the third inning, then slammed a majestic game-tying two-run homer to straightaway centre off Villanueva in the fifth. It was his fourth of the year.
“That at-bat to Thames, I told Jeff (Mathis) he should have body-slammed me,” Villanueva said. “He knew it too, but I was just stubborn. He swung over the changeup and if I go with (Jeff) we have him out easy. But I'm stubborn enough, I try to go back in with a bad cutter and it just spun. He has more than enough power and he did what he should have done with it.”
In the sixth, the M's took the lead on a one-out double by Canadian centre fielder Michael Saunders, followed a second out later by a looping single to centre field by catcher John Jaso. The M's added an insurance run in the seventh as Dustin Ackley's broken bat single cashed Brendan Ryan.
It's a grind, as many Jays pointed out in this series, and even though the Jays may not have actually been able to add to the starting rotation at the trade deadline, it seems they apparently didn't have to. It seems they may already be moving towards having too many starting pitchers.
Here's where the Jays' pitching story of rags to riches gets interesting. Recall the Jays' interleague series in Milwaukee just 42 days ago, when the rotation was at its lowest point. Henderson Alvarez started on Monday, then they flew in Jesse Chavez to start Tuesday and flew Joel Carreno in overnight to start Wednesday. Villanueva's last relief appearance happened to be in that series.
From that Jays' pitching nadir at Miller Park, having one-time starters flying in and out, all of a sudden manager John Farrell is talking about possibly going to a six-man rotation even just for one trip through, after Monday's off day in Tampa. And that's before Brandon Morrow returns from his minor league rehab option after three more starts. Thank goodness, they did not trade for another starter.
Actually, that's not quite true. The Jays did acquire one starting pitcher, but it was earlier in July, J.A. Happ from the Astros. But since Happ's arrival he's been buried in long relief, apparently unable to wrest an assignment away from Aaron Laffey, Brett Cecil, Alvarez, Ricky Romero or Villanueva.
“As we stated at the time that J.A. joined us, the rotaton will be evaluated as we go through each turn,” Farrell said prior to Wednesday's game. “One potential idea is after we get through the off day on Monday we would consider a six-man rotation to make sure that we don't go too long from J.A.'s most recent start. We've been able to get him multiple innings in most recent outings. There's a couple of ways we can go with this. Make a one-for-one switch, or go to a six-man rotation.”
Farrell has only discussed the idea with pitching coach Bruce Walton, but it has some merit...if it is just the one time through. It could serve almost as a three-way competition moving forward for two spots among Cecil, Laffey and Happ, at least until the return of Morrow, out since June 11.
“This is something that is a thought, it's not something that's been talked about in depth as of yet,” Farrell said. “The one thing that we have to strongly consider is how far away do we get from J.A.'s last start (on July 16 at San Diego) and then realistically how far can he go in his first start in the rotation. You combine that with the return of Brandon at some point and he's going to have limits on him and it's tough to have two guys in the rotation where you're looking at 80-pitch limits, then we're back into chasing our tail as we've done before where we're carrying that extra pitcher.”
The Jays opened the scoring on this night, as Colby Rasmus drilled the first pitch he saw from Blake Beavan in the first inning into the first row of the stands in right field. The Jays added another run on a long blast into the centre field seats by Kelly Johnson in the fourth. It was Johnson's 12th home run and his first since July 26. He had been 1-for-8 on the road trip.
The M's narrowed the gap, scoring their first run on a double play grounder that was set up on a Saunders groundball that got by first baseman David Cooper and might have been corraled by the regular first-baseman, Edwin Encarnacion, who was at DH to protect a sore left heel.
“It's nothing that's a big problem,” Encarnacion said. “I want to take a couple of games at DH. I don't know. I'm runnig a lot and playing first base every day now. That's maybe the difference.”
The Jays regained their two-run margin on a fifth innings sacrifice fly by catcher Jeff Mathis. The Jays ran themselves out of that inning, with speed being the killer. Rajai Davis was on second, with Anthony Gose on first and two out. Davis bluffed a steal to third and Gose biught it, heading towards second base. With both men surrounding one base, Davis took off for third and was tagged out.
“Overaggressiveness, trying to force some things on our part,” Farrell said. “We get two guys in scoring position. On a base hit we're looking at potentially two runs. The way Colby was swinging the bat previously and we've got two guys with well above average speed, very good base stealing skills. Offensively it seemed like that was the turning point for us.”
The newest Blue Jay, righthander Brad Lincoln, made his debut, pitching 1-1/3 scoreless innings. He was obtained for outfielder Travis Snider. The Jays have not been lower than two games under .500 all season and head to Oakland, that had the best July since the '56 Yankees.
“Coming in and getting swept, nobody's happy with that,” Villanueva said. “We're extremely disappointed in ourselves. It doesn't matter who we're missing or who's playing, we have to pick it up. Going to Oakland, they're playing hungry right now, they're playing for the playoffs, as we should be doing the same thing. We've gone through this before and we've bounced back. This next seven games we're going to show ourselves what we're made of.”