Biagini without a backup band
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.