PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – It wasn’t pretty, but they all count, and the Blue Jays picked up yet another spring win over the Tampa Bay Rays, improving to 3-0 against their A.L. East nemesis and 16-5-3 overall for the spring.
Here’s what stood out to me about Sunday’s victory:
CAN’T ANYBODY HERE PLAY THIS GAME? The Blue Jays and Rays combined for seven errors in a very sloppily-played game, with the home side accounting for four miscues to the visitors’ three.
The madness started in the third inning when, reminiscent of the Texas Rangers’ pre-Joey Batflip meltdown in Game 5 of the ALDS, the Rays booted ground balls hit by the first two batters of the inning – one each by Kevin Pillar and Ryan Goins. Those resulted in one unearned run for the Blue Jays, who apparently felt guilty about that and returned the favour in triplicate.
In the bottom of the fifth, after Drew Hutchison walked Brad Miller, the Rays’ leadoff man took off for second and catcher A.J. Jimenez spiked his throw. The low laser hit Hutchison in the head – a very scary moment which somehow left the pitcher completely unscathed – and ricocheted into short left field. Despite appearing alright, Hutchison was removed from the game. It was the second straight start in which he’d thrown four innings of one-hit ball. The error allowed Miller to score an unearned run on a fly out by Corey Dickerson.
The Rays scored two more unearned runs in the sixth thanks to a couple more Blue Jays miscues – Rowdy Tellez couldn’t handle a low throw by Jio Mier on Logan Forsythe’s routine grounder, and a couple of batters later, Alexi Casilla’s backhand flip to second on a potential double-play ball sailed into left field, allowing Forsythe to score and sending the runner, Casey Gillaspie, to third, from whence he scored on a sacrifice fly.
The Blue Jays stopped kicking the ball around after that, but the dropsies simply shifted back to the other side of the field. After Tony Sanchez singled in the go-ahead run in the eighth and Mier added an insurance run with an RBI single of his own, Roemon Fields hit a little comebacker to the mound that Andrew Bellatti couldn’t corral and another run scored.
With a runner on third and two out in the ninth, Jason Leblebijian hit a grounder to third that Joseph Astacio threw away, allowing yet another run to score. Two batters earlier, Astacio had taken a bad-hop grounder off the face. Sanchez followed Leblebijian and hit a routine fly ball to right field on which Cade Gotta took what could be charitably described as a circuitous route. Once Gotta stopped twisting and turning, the ball fell harmlessly ten feet in front of him for a double.
SECOND IMPRESSIONS: They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression and Alexi Casilla didn’t put his best foot forward in his first-ever chance as a Blue Jay.
The veteran middle infielder, signed to a minor-league contract last weekend, made his first appearance in a Grapefruit League game for the Blue Jays, and on the first ball hit to him, made the error that eventually allowed the go-ahead run to score.
It was an auspicious debut for the man who will likely be the first or second option (perhaps behind Andy Burns) should the Blue Jays need help in the middle infield before Devon Travis is ready to return from injury.
Casilla made up for it, though, as in his first at-bat (in the eighth), he smacked a line single to centre, stole second and came around to score the run that put the Blue Jays on top for good. He also singled in the ninth, the bad-hop grounder off Astacio’s face, for a 2-for-2 day.
And speaking of overcoming a bad impression, Tony Sanchez got to go from goat to hero in the space of 24 hours. Sanchez quite literally kicked the game away in the loss to the Yankees on Saturday, his two ninth-inning errors allowing the winning run to score, but it was his one-out grounder up the middle – part of a 2-for-2 day – that drove in Casilla with the eventual winner.
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KIDS’ DAY AT THE BALLPARK: With Charlotte Sports Park over two hours away from The FAES in Dunedin by bus, the Blue Jays didn’t bring a lot of their big guns to the game, but they did bring a lot of their kids on the long trek down Interstate 75.
Dusty Isaacs, Tim Mayza and Jose Fernandez each pitched a shutout inning of relief, with Isaacs picking up the win on Sunday. Of the three of them, Isaacs is the only one who has made it above low-A Lansing. He had one appearance for the high-A Dunedin Blue Jays last season.
Out on the field, Leblebijian and Jorge Flores got a chance to play with the big club for just the third time this spring. Leblebijian has all of 32 games in Dunedin to his credit, and the young third baseman walked and reached on an error. Flores entered the game as a pinch-runner and played two innings of defence but never came to the plate.
For the Rays’ part, their defence for the last three innings featured Gotta, Gillaspie, Astacio, Jose Paez and 19 year-old Zacrey Law, none of whom have played a single game above low-A ball.
The Blue Jays move into the final week of the pre-season with their penultimate home game on Monday, hosting the Philadelphia Phillies at the FAES. Marcus Stroman gets his last tune-up before being handed the ball on opening day; he’s up against Vince Velasquez, who the Jays have already seen twice this spring. They’ve gotten to the young righty for five runs on seven hits over six innings.