DUNEDIN, Fla. — The Toronto Blue Jays put up a three-spot in the first inning against the Twins, but couldn’t get much more going and wound up with a third straight spring loss.
Even without most of the big bats in the lineup, the Jays put a nice rally together right away, as Emilio Bonifacio’s leadoff double was cashed by a Rajai Davis single and Adam Lind followed with a two-run blast to right — his first home run of the spring.
Ricky Romero gave two of those runs back right away, though he really shouldn’t have. Romero cruised through a perfect first inning, but allowed a leadoff single to Justin Morneau in the second. The next hitter, Trevor Plouffe, hit a tailor-made double-play ball to shortstop, but Maicer Izturis made a wild throw to first after taking a nice feed from Bonifacio. The inability to get that double play turned extended the inning, and Joe Benson took advantage of the free at-bat, belting a two-out two-run homer.
Romero’s demeanour changed after he gave up the big blast, snatching the ball out of the air angrily on return throws from Henry Blanco, shoulders slumping slightly but noticeably, and he walked the next hitter, ending his day after 36 pitches.
Jeff Blair and I noticed on the broadcast that Romero only broke 90 mph once, and we speculated that there might have been something going on with Romero’s knee problems that were taking away from his velocity, which would be a really bad thing. Turns out that had nothing do with it, that Romero was focusing almost completely on throwing his sinker, which is three or four miles an hour slower than his four-seam fastball.
Steve Delabar came in pumping 94-mph bullets, but a couple of them got turned around — one for a double by Morneau and the other for a single by Plouffe. Each drove in a run, making Delabar the losing pitcher.
Michael Schwimer made his Blue Jays’ fake debut, and though the 6-foot-8 righty had some issues with the strike zone, he only walked one in an otherwise perfect inning. The utterly unheralded Neil Wagner, signed as a minor-league free agent from the Padres organization, put a bunch of 97s up on the board in his one shutout inning. That shutout was saved by a spectacular Eugenio Velez grab of a hard line drive at second base. Velez was playing in with runners at second and third and one out, and he had to go way up to snare the Jeff Clement rocket.
Velez is ticketed for Buffalo, where he’s likely to be a super-utility guy, but he has significant big-league time and has had some success at the major-league level, as has Andy LaRoche, who homered in the seventh off Tyler Robertson.
The Blue Jays did their absolute best this winter to make sure they’re as deep as they can be in triple-A, with players who have not only played in the bigs before, but played well at times (if they played well all the time, they wouldn’t be minor-league depth, of course). Velez, LaRoche and Ryan Langerhans are part of that on the offensive side, and on the mound, there are guys like Dave Bush, Ramon Ortiz, Claudio Vargas, Justin Germano, Mickey Storey and Alex Hinshaw.
Not only is that to keep their promise of a good, competitive team to the people who run the Buffalo Bisons, but more importantly, it’s to make sure they can weather the storm at the major-league level in case they find themselves once again beset by injury as they were last year.
Before the game, John Gibbons shed some more light on the R.A. Dickey catching situation, saying that if Dickey has a personal catcher, that’s the guy who will be in the lineup on opening day.
The likely resolution will be that Henry Blanco gets the job — all the Blue Jays really want to see from him is that he doesn’t look his age (41) out there on the field, and that’s he’s not overmatched by big-league pitching. Blanco looked very good behind the plate Tuesday afternoon, nimbly blocking a bunch of pitches in the dirt and throwing out Darin Mastroianni trying to steal third, and even picked up a base hit.
The thing about opening day, though, is that not only is that game a reward for the starters and a pretty big deal, but it’s kind of a huge deal for J.P. Arencibia, who homered twice on opening day 2011, and went deep in the 16th inning on opening day 2012. Of course, maybe the solution is to have him pinch-hit late in the game if the Blue Jays need some offence, as Jamie Campbell suggested on the broadcast.
Speaking of the broadcast, Dirk Hayhurst’s throat gave out on him, so he wasn’t able to answer the bell, which meant I had a rotating cast of characters filling the analyst’s seat, which made for a really fun afternoon. Campbell and Jeff Blair did a terrific job, as did Blue Jays assistant general manager Jay Sartori and then the man himself, Alex Anthopoulos. Try to tune in to the rebroadcast, if you can, Tuesday night on Sportsnet 590 The Fan.
Wednesday afternoon, the Houston Astros come to town as the Blue Jays wrap up this four-game spring homestand. Brad Lincoln makes his first start of the Grapefruit season, and we get a look at the intriguing Jeremy Jeffress, as well as Germano, Hinshaw, Tommy Hottovy, Vargas, Tyson Brummett and Storey. Alex White starts for the ‘Stros. Hopefully, Dirk will be back and good to go — make sure you tune in at 1:00 p.m. ET on sportsnet590.ca to find out.