TORONTO — Ryan Goins has two opposite-field home runs in his major league career: the one he hit off Jhan Marinez this April in Tampa Bay and the one he hit Monday night off Yankees starter Ivan Nova, when he took a 2-0 fastball into the left field bullpen at Rogers Centre.
The common denominator between those two hits? Devon Travis was in the dugout and not in the game. Travis was in there for the April big fly in Tampa because he was still rehabbing from shoulder surgery in nearby Dunedin; and he was there again on Monday serving a scheduled day off.
So when Goins finished his home run trot during the Blue Jays’ 4-2 victory Monday night, guess who the first guy was waiting for him in the dugout, grinning ear to ear.
“I told him, ‘You need me in the dugout, bro. Every time I’m in this dugout you go backside bomb,’” Travis said. “That home run was frigging sick. That’s so tough to do. That was impressive. Hell yeah—that’s such a big hit right there.”
The home run was Goins’ second hit off Nova on the night, after he smoked a first-pitch sinker down in the zone into the right field gap for a leadoff double in the third inning. He came around to score on that hit, too, giving the Blue Jays two of their four runs on the night.
Goins is now batting .462 (6-for-13) against Nova in his career with three extra-base hits. That’s the highest batting average Goins has against any pitcher he’s faced 10 times or more.
“Nova has a really good sinker. But I just found ways to get ahead in the count today,” Goins said. “When he gets ahead, he’s pretty dangerous with the big curveball and that good sinker. He can get a lot of groundballs. So it just worked out in my favour to get ahead in the count.”
A date with Nova is perhaps just what Goins needed, as he came into the game batting .099/.155/.187 in 97 plate appearances since April 14. A truly elite defensive talent, Goins has never been known for his work with the bat and carries a career OPS below .600.
But the Blue Jays second baseman certainly isn’t as ineffective as he looked over that six-week slump, when he went 9-for-91 and lost regular playing time to the surging Darwin Barney.
“GoGo, you know, he ain’t been playing a whole lot lately. But a big, big night,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. “He seemed good and relaxed tonight—and confident. You know, Ryan has been struggling for a while. But he’s a better hitter than that. He had a few days off, relaxed, and came through for us.”
Goins hit ninth for the Blue Jays Monday, but his double and home run both led off innings. That table setting role in the nine-hole takes on added importance in the Blue Jays’ current batting order, which features power hitters in the top three spots.
Goins has spent three games now batting in front of Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion, and he says he’s seen a difference in the way pitchers are attacking him.
“For sure. They’re not going to mess around when you have guys like that hitting behind you. They have to get you out,” Goins said. “They don’t want to mess around and put you on because next thing you know it could be a two-run or three-run homer.”
Naturally, Blue Jays starting pitchers enjoy having Goins playing behind them as his 21 defensive runs saved since 2013 is the fifth highest among major league second basemen over that span. And he’s made the second-fewest errors (he’s been charged with just eight) of any second baseman who has played at least 1,400 innings in that time.
“It’s great to have him out there because the defence is so good. And then tonight he puts together some great at-bats — I’m really happy for him,” said Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada, who got 10 groundball outs in eight scoreless innings against the Yankees Monday. “He’s such a great player. He plays really hard everyday. For him to come out and do what he did today, it’s awesome to see.”
This would be a particularly crucial time for Goins to turn his season around offensively. He’s likely only still on the Blue Jays major league roster because Troy Tulowitzki is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring, and the Blue Jays need a player other than Barney who can man shortstop.
Gibbons said before Monday’s game that with Tulowitzki out of service the club would ride Barney at short, as the veteran infielder is batting .321/.352/.452 in 88 plate appearances this season. That scenario would limit Goins to spot duty late in games and rare starts when Barney or Travis get days off.
So, the pressure to perform is as high as ever for Goins, not that you could tell in the Blue Jays dugout Monday night. After his home run off Nova, Goins sat on the bench behind Tulowitzki, who was watching the game from behind the railing along the dugout’s top step, and started getting chirpy.
“Oh yeah, I started messing with him, telling him oppo homers aren’t for everybody,” Goins said, ribbing his teammate who hasn’t hit an opposite-field home run since 2014. “Maybe if he’s lucky he can hit one this year and catch me on the oppo homer leaderboard.”
Tulowitzki was predictably nonplussed with the commentary, which spurred Goins to give him a bear hug (“Did you see him lick his ear, too?” chimed in Kevin Pillar, who had clearly seen the replay).
Did Goins also happen to tell Tulowitzki that he was coming for his spot while the five-time all-star is injured?
“No, no, no. That’s definitely not happening,” Goins said with a laugh. “That’s above my pay grade.”