BRADENTON, Fla. – In a battle of attrition that saw the Toronto Blue Jays lead 1-0, trail 4-1, lead 6-4, trail 8-7 and lead 11-8 before the Pittsburgh Pirates scored three times in the bottom of the ninth, the Jays played to their second tie of the spring.
Mike Bolsinger started and had his best outing so far, throwing 2 2/3 innings of two-hit shutout ball, the second hit coming on a ground ball to first on which Bolsinger rolled his ankle and couldn’t get over to cover the bag. He came out of the game, but the Blue Jays said the injury is very minor and completely unconcerning.
Here are three things that stood out to me about the back-and-forth affair:
BABY JAYS FOR THE….TIE
The Blue Jays starters pretty much cleared out of the game during and right after the five-run sixth inning that gave the Jays a 7-5 lead over the Pirates, and they were already on their way back to Dunedin when Casey Lawrence gave up a two-run homer to Michael Suchy in the seventh that tied the game. Lawrence left with a man on second in the eighth and that runner scored as Matt Dermody gave up an RBI single to Max Moroff to put the home side back on top.
It was up to the kids – most of whom had little, if any, experience above A-ball – to rally back, and not only did they, but they did so against big-time big-league lefty Antonio Bastardo, who is going into the final season of a two-year, $12-million contract.
It started with Derrick Loveless, who finally made it to double-A in his sixth professional season last year. He led off with a hard-hit left-on-left double the other way. Matt Dean, who did the same (in his fifth year pro) followed with a bloop single and Rowdy Tellez cued a ground ball to third on which Pirates’ third baseman Eric Wood tried a swipe tag on Loveless and missed, loading the bases.
Up next was No. 72, Jason Leblebijian, who also got his first taste of New Hampshire last season. He drew a walk to force in the tying run.
The next hitter was also wearing No. 72 (spring training baseball is the best), and he also drew a bases-loaded walk, giving the Jays the lead. That was J.B. Woodman, the Jays’ second-round pick just last June. Never mind double-A, he’s never even seen high-A ball, starting last year in Vancouver and finishing with nine games at low-A Lansing.
Two batters later, it was D.J. Davis driving in a pair with a single. Davis was the Jays’ first of two first-round picks in 2012 (selected five spots ahead of Marcus Stroman). Taken out of high school, he has only yet made it as far as high-A Dunedin.
Unfortunately, Dermody and Brett Oberholtzer weren’t able to hold the three-run lead, combining to allow three runs on four hits – three of them doubles – and the game finished in a tie.
OUTS ON THE BASES
The Blue Jays had four runners erased on the base paths in the win over the Pirates, two of them in a dramatic top of the fourth inning.
In that frame, four of the five Jays who came to the plate got hits – Ezequiel Carrera led off with a home run, then Gregorio Petit doubled and Steve Pearce singled to left. After a Justin Smoak fly to shallow centre, Darrell Ceciliani singled to left to end the inning.
How did three outs work their way into there? You can thank the right arm of Pittsburgh left fielder Alen Hanson, who erased a pair of runners at home plate.
Hanson threw a bullet to the dish to nail Petit, trying to score on Pearce’s single, and he loaded up again and made an even better throw to get Pearce, who was trying to score on Ceciliani’s.
He got another shot in the sixth, when Pearce singled to left-centre with the bases loaded. Hanson seemed to be caught by surprise when Carrera rounded third and headed home, so his very strong throw was offline and got away from catcher Francisco Cervelli.
While it’s extremely rare to see two runners thrown out at the plate in the same inning, they were only half of the Blue Jays who were eliminated on the bases Sunday.
Jose Tabata, the former Pirate who was called up from the minor-league complex to make his first appearance for the Jays, doubled to the right-field corner in the third inning but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple. Another minor-league call-up, Leblebijian, got picked off at third in sixth. He strayed too far off the bag on Ceciliani’s tapper back to the mound.
KNOCKING OUT THE CLOSER – AGAIN
For the second time this spring, the Blue Jays faced Pirates closer-in-waiting Tony Watson, and for the second time, they beat him up.
Watson took over as Pittsburgh’s stopper after the Pirates traded Mark Melancon to Washington at the deadline. He notched 15 saves in 18 tries, posting a WHIP of 1.07 and staking a claim to the position for this season even with the Pirates bringing in Daniel Hudson as a free agent.
The lefty faced the Blue Jays back on February 28th and gave up three runs on four hits in just two-thirds of an inning, the big blows being a two-run double by Petit and an RBI single by Kendrys Morales.
Given the ball against the Jays Sunday, Watson again failed to complete an inning’s work, and this time gave up five runs on three hits, capped off by a two-run single by Pearce. Watson left with the bases loaded and two out and reliever Miguel Rosario gave up a three-run double to Jake Elmore, with all the runs charged to Watson.
In an inning and a third against the Blue Jays, Watson has allowed nine runs. In three innings against everybody else, he’s allowed only one baserunner.
The Blue Jays return home to Dunedin for a Monday afternoon date with the Minnesota Twins. Francisco Liriano gets the start against the team with whom he started his big-league career, taking on righty Tyler Duffey. The game is available online only (sign up for the MLB audio package – it’s free for spring!) and I’ll have it for you on the interwebs, joined by the Baseball Central crew of Jeff Blair and Kevin Barker, starting at 1:00 p.m. ET. It’s going to be a blast, you can listen here.