Bats silent as early-sea­son slide goes on

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - Richard Grif­fin

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.

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