TAMPA, Fla. – The Toronto Blue Jays were up to the task yet again on Thursday against a split squad of New York Yankees, scoring in double digits for their eighth win against only one loss this spring. Even with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion a combined 0-for-2 for the entire pre-season, with only one game played between them, the Jays are averaging 6.1 runs per game to this point, cutting a swath through their citric competition.
Here’s what stood out to me from Toronto’s latest victory:
RETURN OF THE MACK:
Bautista made his spring debut, having sat out the first nine spring training games as part of the Blue Jays’ new high-performance team’s plan to get the best out of him over six (and hopefully seven) months of meaningful baseball. He served as the designated hitter, batting third behind Kevin Pillar and Josh Donaldson.
Bautista popped up to shortstop in his first at-bat, against Nathan Eovaldi, and struck out looking on a beautiful 3-2 slider by Andrew Miller his next time up. In the fifth inning, Bautista came to the plate to face Aroldis Chapman, who was making his first appearance of the spring as well. The Yankees’ newest big bullpen arm got ahead of Bautista, then hit him on the foot with a two-strike breaking ball.
Bautista was fine. Rowdy Tellez came out to pinch-run, and the Blue Jays’ big slugger went back into the clubhouse to deftly take the high road on Goose Gossage’s “get off my lawn” diatribe about, basically, how the Hall of Famer thinks those damn kids are ruining everything with their bat flips and celebrating and being happy when they do good things (if I may paraphrase).
BIG THREE? BIG DEAL:
The Yankees have one of the scariest bullpens in the major leagues, thanks to adding Chapman to the already-devastating combination of Miller and Dellin Betances, and the Blue Jays had to face all three of the Yankees’ big guns on Thursday.
Miller, Chapman and Betances combined to throw 2 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on four hits with two walks, hitting two batters and striking out four.
Miller was up first, and after getting Russell Martin to ground out to second to begin the third inning, the tough lefty allowed four straight hits. Darrell Ceciliani smacked a rope to centre on the first pitch he saw for a single and Ryan Goins hit a grounder the other way, just out of the reach of diving third baseman Pete Kozma, for another base hit.
Kevin Pillar followed and stayed on an outside pitch, hitting a line drive to right for another single to load the bases for Josh Donaldson, who hit a liner to left for a single that scored Ceciliani and Goins for the game’s first runs. Miller then composed himself and struck out Bautista and Troy Tulowitzki to escape further damage.
Betances came out firing bullets and worked a perfect fourth, but he had to be saved by an outstanding catch by centre-fielder Ben Gamel, who laid out along the warning track in right-centre to steal extra bases from Martin.
Chapman was next, and couldn’t harness his stuff in his first appearance of the spring. He faced six Blue Jays and only one put the ball in play – Donaldson, who popped out to first. Of the other five, Chapman struck out Ceciliani, walked Pillar and Tulowitzki (with the bases loaded) and hit Goins (on the elbow pad) and Bautista (on the foot).
Once the Big Three were done, the Blue Jays did even more damage against the rest of the Yankees’ bullpen, scoring eight runs over the final four innings and doing so by smacking six extra-base hits.
David Adams, a former Yankee who spent many a spring training here in Tampa, had two of them with RBI doubles in the seventh and ninth, but Andy Burns outdid him. Burns, who hit all of five home runs in 499 minor-league at-bats last season, powered up against Diego Moreno in the sixth inning, belting a long three-run homer over the scoreboard in left field to break the game open. He followed that with an RBI double off the base of the wall in the left-field corner in the ninth.
Domonic Brown got in on the fun, too, splitting the outfielders with his eighth-inning line shot into the gap in right-centre. It didn’t look like he broke a sweat as he ran 270 feet for a stand-up RBI triple. Jon Berti rounded things out with a triple of his own, his a line drive over the head of left-fielder Cesar Puello in the ninth.
None of those hitters are likely to make the team – only Brown has a legitimate chance out of spring – but they’re showing that they’re definitely in the swing of things down here.
With all the Blue Jays’ regulars playing on Thursday, save Edwin Encarnacion, who continues to get back in shape after missing some time dealing with an abscessed tooth, don’t expect too many in the lineup on Friday afternoon when the Boston Red Sox come to Dunedin for a 1:00 p.m. ET date with the 8-1-1 Jays.
Marcus Stroman will start for the home side, and he’s up against knuckleballer Steven Wright, which means our webcast will be awash with Steven Wright humour (you can’t have everything, where would you put it?). Join Ben Nicholson-Smith and me live on the interwebs for all the play-by-play. Just sign up for your free mlb.com audio account.