National Post (Latest Edition)
Jays counting on offence to reignite
It has become Charlie Montoyo’s go-to response when his powerpacked offence struggles: “I know we are going to hit,” the Toronto Blue Jays manager has said double-digit times this season.
It’s a belief mostly rooted in fact, but lately the always positive manager sounds like he might just be trying to convince himself.
And certainly until George Springer makes his debut and Teoscar Hernandez his return from his COVID-19 shutdown, it may continue to be a too familiar refrain.
Days like Sunday’s twohit effort in a 2-0 loss to the Royals (the Jays first shutout defeat of the season) aren’t likely to happen too often with this deep group. But if the Royals exposed the weaknesses in the Springer-free lineup, expect others to attempt the same.
One-game sample for sure, but after getting raked by Vlad Guerrero Jr. for the first three games of the fourgame set, the Royals had no interest in pitching to one of baseball’s hottest hitters in Sunday’s finale.
Very little was offered in the zone for Guerrero and starter Brady Singer instead attacked cleanup man Randal Grichuk, who struck out four times.
With Hernandez and Springer in the lineup, the logic suggests that opposing pitchers won’t have such luxury. Hernandez could return to his cleanup spot while Springer will bat first and surely provide an upgrade in production from the .182 Marcus Semien at leadoff.
“We’re very close to adding Teo and George Springer to our lineup,” general manager Ross Atkins told MLB Radio on the weekend. “If you think about the difference that makes — the pitches that are thrown, the stress on a pitching staff is significant.
“What that means for Vladdy and Bo (Bichette) and Cavan (Biggio) and Marcus Semien is massive. Really excited to be adding those guys.”
The offence hasn’t been entirely dormant, but any success has been mostly due to Bichette and Guerrero now that Grichuk has cooled off. Rowdy Tellez has shown some signs of life in recent days, but elsewhere there hasn’t been much as the Jays have managed just 66 runs in 16 games — including 15 in one blowout win over the Angels.
“The lineup is changing around because of a lot of guys getting hurt,” Montoyo said. “The lineup is not the lineup we were expecting but that’s how it goes. Maybe some guys are putting pressure on themselves because the lineup isn’t as strong as it’s supposed to be.
“But you’re going to see it. It’s going to feel good having Springer back.”
That isn’t expected to happen in Boston, but after a second day off this week, the Jays are hopeful the centre-fielder will be ready for a weekend series at Tampa. And not a moment too soon.
RYU THE EXTRA DAY?
By pushing Hyun-jin Ryu out of the rotation in K.C., the Jays may have cost themselves a shot at a split of the four-game series. Instead, they were looking at the long view, taking advantage of Monday’s much anticipated off day to provide even more rest.
The Korean lefty thrives on an extra day’s rest and when the opportunity arises they’ll give it to him. And besides, they have him on the hill for Tuesday’s first of two games against the red-hot AL East-leading Boston Red Sox.
“I think any time we have an opportunity to do that, we’re going to try to for sure,” Jays pitching coach Pete Walker said of the Ryu strategy. “It’s not always going to work out that way, but I think with him, his numbers are always good on a little more rest.
“And it’s early in the season. It’s April. When you’re thinking about a long season and making 30-plus starts for us — that’s what we envision — be smart when we have the opportunity to do it.”
FUN GUY RYU
Though he’s all business on the mound — and so far has been masterful in 2021 — Ryu has a fun side.
“I hang around him a good bit,” said reliever (for now) Trent Thornton. “He’s got a really good sense of humour so we joke around a lot. We eat a lot together. I’m starting to learn a little Korean and he’s got some pretty good English too. It’s just a good time.”
More importantly, Thornton has benefited from watching Ryu attack his craft.
“He’s very approachable, easy to talk to,” Thornton said. “He’s a phenomenal teammate and works extremely hard.
“I watch his preparation, what he does in between starts and his routine. It’s very detailed and specific, how he goes over scouting reports when he’s doing his homework on hitters ... it’s very in depth.”
WHAT A RELIEF?
Thornton, by the way, has become a pleasant dilemma for the Jays staff. Some still see him as a potential starter but he’s needed in the bullpen now and thriving.
“I still think he can be a very solid major league starter,” Walker said.
“But he looks good out of the pen. In a short stint, he’s got some weapons to get you out. He has the aggressive mindset of a reliever, but I think he has stuff to start so we’re not going to move away from that at this point.”
In five relief appearances this season Thornton, who pitched in just three games in 2020 before getting hurt, has allowed two runs in 7.2 innings for a tidy 2.35. ERA.
“It’s something I’ve done throughout my career — start, early (relief), close, whatever it is,” Thornton said. “I know from experience so it’s not a very hard adjustment to make.”