Bi­agini with­out a backup band

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - Rosie DiManno

When op­pos­ing run­ners get to sec­ond base — and half a dozen of them came through the neigh­bour­hood on Sun­day af­ter­noon — Devon Travis of­ten fields the same query.

“Their first ques­tion is, who is this guy? Hon­estly, ev­ery guy who talks about him asks that.”

Why, that fel­low would be Joe Bi­agini, the bullpen work­horse who made his fifth ca­reer MLB start yes­ter­day, his first qual­ity start since el­e­va­tion to the ro­ta­tion amidst the dis­abled-list at­tri­tion of Toronto’s mounds­men.

Bi­agini took the loss too — he is 2-2 since climb­ing the cor­po­rate arms lad­der — but shouldn’t take the blame, as the Blue Jays couldn’t muster much of a scor­ing threat against Texas, go­ing 0for-7 with run­ners in scor­ing po­si­tion, largely con­founded by Rangers righthander Andrew Cash­ner in a 3-1 de­feat at Rogers Cen­tre.

Snap went the five-game win­ning streak, though Toronto took the week­end se­ries, their record im­prov­ing to 6-9-2 in se­ries sets. And that’s the way the Jays must keep rolling if they have any hope, which they em­phat­i­cally do, of muscling their way up from the bot­tom of the Amer­i­can League East.

Sun­day’s game at Rogers was a list­less af­fair un­der bright blue skies, the first time the roof has stayed open at that pill­box of a ball­park in 2017. Not since 2001has the un-bar­ing oc­curred so late into a sea­son.

Bi­agini, who turns 27 Mon­day, brought plenty of good stuff to the bump, ef­fec­tively mix­ing all four of his pitches — four-seamer, curve, changeup and cut­ter — the only overt blem­ish a solo home run to Joey Gallo in the fourth, which gave Texas a 2-1 lead, all they would need to halt a five-game los­ing skid. The Jays should take heart from how quickly the stand­ings can morph as the for­merly hot-hot-hot Rangers have slipped below .500.

In a mus­cu­lar May — the Jays are 15-10 on the month — the team has at least man­aged to dog-pad­dle fu­ri­ously whilst await­ing the re­turn of mar­quee play­ers. Josh Don­ald­son and Troy Tu­low­itzki were back in the lineup again Sun­day, al­though they went a com­bined 0-for-7 at the plate. Still miss­ing from the fray is starter Aaron Sanchez, nurs­ing his fin­ger is­sues. But there was a sur­prise and up­lift­ing ar­rival in the club­house af­ter the game in the person of J.A. Happ, just off a plane from re­hab in Florida.

Happ and Bi­agini did an al­most chore­ographed mu­tual dou­ble-take, pass­ing each other in the dress­ing room. Bi­agini’s starter sta­tus isn’t threat­ened by the reap­pear­ance of Happ be­cause the Jays are still down a pint and no­body seems defini­tively sure who will get the ball on Tuesday, as the starter world turns. Happ was sched­uled for a throw­ing ses­sion af­ter the game and man­ager John Gib­bons is op­ti­mistic the lanky lefty will be ready to re­sume his du­ties early this week, hope­fully Tuesday.

There’s zero chance Bi­agini will hold on to the starter bil­let when all hands and dig­its are healthy. They need his yeoman heft in the bullpen.

“I wouldn’t miss not hav­ing to do this, with all these dirty looks you guys are giv­ing me,” he dead­panned, mean­ing the post-game starter scrum with me­dia.

Which is a fla­grant fib be­cause Bi­agini clearly en­joys hav­ing an au­di­ence.

“I’ve al­ways thought of my­self as a starter,” as he was in the mi­nors with San Fran­cisco. “I feel pretty com­fort­able in that role. But the sit­u­a­tion with this team is there’s a lot of guys who are re­ally good and have been do­ing this for a while and have their roles. So, I’m not gonna feel like I de­serve to have a spot over any of these guys. I know the sit­u­a­tion and that the mo­ment any of them come back, that’s their job.

“I’m happy to be thought of as, hey, we have a spot open for a starter and we feel like you can do it. That’s pretty cool.’’

Adding: “If I run out of chances to start when some of these guys come back, hope­fully I’ll be able to tran­si­tion back into sit­ting out in the dun­geon out there for seven in­nings.”

Bi­agini is just start­ing to feel com­pletely com­fort­able with his starter prepa­ra­tion and work­out de­mands of that job. “Some like to do the bleach­ers.” Run­ning up and down them. “Some guys like to dodge traf­fic, it just helps with the agility.” Uh-huh. In last­ing six in­nings for the first time, Bi­agini reached a ca­reer high 95 pitches. “It’s im­por­tant for me to see my­self han­dle the work­load, con­tin­u­ing to ex­pand. I went from 78 to 95 pitches from last week to this week. I was kind of sur­prised when I asked how many pitches I had into the sixth in­ning. It felt like my arm was bet­ter con­di­tioned for it. Didn’t feel quite as much of a tank­ing drop-off.’’

En­cour­ag­ing, that stretched-out stam­ina, noted Gib­bons. “That’s all be­hind him now, build­ing him up. He’s good to go. Treat him like any­body else.”

Best com­pli­ment the skip­per could have paid Bi­agini.

On this day, he threw more curve­balls than has been seen from him through­out his start­ing ten­ure, mostly be­cause catcher Rus­sell Martin was call­ing for them, mostly be­cause the cut­ter was some­what ail­ing. “I was not fin­ish­ing it very well. The home run to Gallo was a cut­ter that didn’t do any­thing, it just spun . . . He struck that quite well.”

So, the curve be­came his de facto break­ing ball pitch.

Over­all, Bi­agini mod­estly graded this start as “a C-plus, maybe a B-mi­nus.”

Oth­er­wise, the high­light of the af­ter­noon, at least from the man­ager’s per­spec­tive, was watch­ing and lis­ten­ing to his daugh­ter, Jor­dan Gib­bons, as the blos­som­ing singer per­formed on Coun­try Day at the ball­park with her band, South­town, af­ter a gig at the ven­er­a­ble Horse­shoe Tav­ern the night be­fore. “Best part of the day,” said dad, proudly.

Bi­agini, by the way, was asked if he had a favourite coun­try song. He had to dig deep into his child­hood mem­ory al­bum to come up with an an­swer: “I Want to Talk About Me” by Toby Keith.


Jays right-han­der Joe Bi­agini al­lowed two runs over six in­nings while throw­ing a ca­reer-high 95 pitches on Sun­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.