Bats silent as early-season slide goes on
The Blue Jays’ horrid start continued Wednesday night with a 2-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, despite another strong performance by 25-year-old Marcus Stroman. The Jays are now 1-7 for the season, continuing the worst start in franchise history.
“Maybe tomorrow will be the night,” manager John Gibbons said of what he anticipates as an inevitable offensive breakout. “If it’s not tomorrow, it’s going to happen. These guys, they’ll hang together. It’s that kind of group. You get all the noise outside of that room, if they can handle that we can all handle that.”
The question hanging in the air at Rogers Centre after Stroman’s strong outing — going the distance with nine strong innings and nothing to show — is that once the diminutive righthander has convinced all doubters of the qualities of his height and his heart, what is he then going to use for personal motivation?
Stroman pitched a complete game, the second of his career. The first was versus the Cubs on Sept. 8, 2014. On this night against the Brewers, he allowed two runs on seven hits, with a walk and four strikeouts. He induced 15 grounders with just seven outs in the air. It was his second quality start in a row, but the runs aren’t there.
“Not at all,” Stroman said, when asked if he felt the lack of run support changed his approach. “I believe this is the best offence in baseball. I know it is, it’s just a matter of we’re just struggling right now. I know that once these guys get going, it’s going to be scary. It’s the first week of the season. Zero reason to panic.”
Stroman’s 100-pitch complete game is the type of start pitching coach Pete Walker always hopes for from his starting five. In an era of pitch six innings, then hand the ball off to the pen, Stroman believes in the Walker philosophy of deeper is better.
“That’s my goal is to take the ball every five days and go nine innings,” Stroman said. “I don’t want to come out. I want to finish the game each and every time. That’s the mindset, that’s the mentality. I think that’s the mentality across the board among all of our starting pitchers.”
The Brewers seemed to be playing American League ball at the Rogers Centre, with a designated hitter available, instead of the NL rules with the pitcher hitting. But the Jays? Until catcher Russell Martin begins to produce regularly with the bat, Toronto is stuck in an offensive rut, the equivalent of an eight-man NL lineup. The starting catcher was hitless in his first 20 at-bats of the season, including two Wednesday, before snapping his personal nightmare streak.
The problem is that Martin is a valuable cog in a team that is built around starting pitching and so he will continue to play. In his third at-bat, with two outs, he broke through with a resounding double to right-centre field eluding the sprint of the speedy Keon Broxton. The hit left him one futile at-bat shy of tying Pat Borders’ franchise record for most at-bats from the start of the year without a hit. It’s a giant weight lifted from Martin’s shoulders and he will look to build on it.
But it’s not just Martin. In the finale of the two-game series, the Jays were 0-for-7 with runners on base and grounded into three key double plays. The Jays have averaged just 2.9 runs per game in support of up-and-down starting pitching through seven games and have held the lead after a full inning for just nine of 76 frames. Five Jays lineup players entered Wednesday’s game hitting under .200.
The Jays’ run-scoring futility was evident through the early innings. After right-hander Chase Anderson retired the first 10 hitters of the game, Jose Bautista broke the perfect bid up with a single to left. Josh Donaldson walked and both men moved up on a grounder by Kendrys Morales.
Gibbons had made the decision to bring Donaldson back into the lineup as the DH, but dropped him to third in the order behind Bautista.
“I don’t know how good he can run,” Gibbons said. “You don’t want him up there at the top getting on where he’s got to go station to station. We didn’t want to drop him too far. We can kind of protect him a little bit.”
With first-base open and the Jays’ leading RBI man up in Troy Tulowitzki, and with the struggling Martin on-deck, the decision was easy. After three careful pitches, none of them close, manager Craig Counsell held up a hand, the universal signal for an intentional walk, in order to face Martin, who was called out on strikes. Home-plate umpire Jerry Layne’s zone was in question all night.
“Yeah, there’s definitely people who are frustrated,” Donaldson said after an 0-for-2 night with two walks.
“I mean, these people in this clubhouse are professionals and they take a lot of pride in what they do and how they go about it. At the same time, I feel like a lot of guys are doing the right things, it’s just not showing up right now for the games.”
Milwaukee’s Jonathan Villar beats Devon Travis’s tag in the third inning. Villar, who was then picked off second, homered off Marcus Stroman in the sixth in the Brewers’ 2-0 win.