CHICAGO – Edwin Encarnacion’s absence from the lineup due to a bruised right hand gave Toronto Blue Jays manager John Farrell reason to shuffle his lineup Tuesday night, and an interesting new batting order paid immediate dividends.
Colby Rasmus, back in the two-hole, collected a career-high five hits including a two-run shot in the fifth, scored four times and knocked in three, while Brett Lawrie brought his enthusiasm to the leadoff spot with three hits and three runs scored in a 9-5 victory over the AL-Central leading Chicago White Sox.
“I’d love to have at-bats like I did tonight every night,” said Rasmus, who is 13-for-23 with two doubles, four home runs and nine RBIs in five games batting second. “I like hitting in the two-hole, it’s a good place to hit for me, the type of hitter I am, it don’t give you a lot of time to think, game starts, you’re in there hitting and the at-bats come up real fast, not a lot of sitting around, which is good.”
Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar, who hit in the top two spots most of the season, were bumped down to four and five, and Farrell said they’d each slide down a spot once Encarnacion returns, possibly as soon as Wednesday.
“When you look at the number of runs we’ve scored, they’ve been in the middle or latter part of the game and maybe this is a different look for us to get on the board first,” Farrell said pre-game. “We haven’t been an early-game scoring team, and this look hopefully gives us a chance to do just that. …
“Against a left-hander, we may go with a little bit different look, but that’s the approach and the look we’re going to go with right now.”
Lawrie said he couldn’t remember batting leadoff before, but when Farrell told him about the switch he replied, “OK, let’s go.” Shuffling into a different spot leads some players to change their approach, but he said he wasn’t going to change his game.
“Depends on what kind of hitter you are, I’m not built as a leadoff hitter, I’m built as a 3-4-5 hitter, I think that’s where I’m built and I’m going to continue to do that,” said Lawrie. “I don’t feel I have to change much, I’m not going to let pitches go by just for the sake of letting them go by, I’ve got to hit fastballs and continue what I’ve been doing.”
Certainly it all worked Tuesday.
THE BIG PICTURE: The Blue Jays (29-26) won for the fifth time in their past seven outings, improving to 9-3 against the AL Central. The White Sox (31-24) dropped to 5-7 against the AL East with just their second loss in the past 11 outings, before a crowd of 23,107 at U.S. Cellular Field.
THE OFFENCE: While Rasmus and Lawrie led the way, David Cooper and Jose Bautista also did some damage.
Cooper opened the scoring when his bases-loaded walk in the first off a wild Philip Humber opened the scoring, and then followed Rasmus’s go-ahead blast in the fifth with a two-run shot of his own to make it a 5-1 game.
Bautista, who walked in the first, knocked in Lawrie to make it 6-1 in the sixth and added a sacrifice fly in the eighth to put the Jays up 9-4 after the White Sox had crept within three.
Rasmus’s five-hit game was the first by a Blue Jay since Corey Patterson did it in a 14-inning contest against the White Sox last May 28. The last Blue Jay to do it in a nine-inning affair was Adam Lind on June 4, 2009 versus the Angels.
“The biggest thing is that the guys on top got on base,” said Farrell. “The way Brett and Colby swung the bat was outstanding.”
THE PITCHING: Ricky Romero (7-1) continues to look more and more like himself, allowing five runs, four earned, over seven innings were far better than the numbers suggest.
Most of the damage against him came with the game out of reach, as A.J. Pierzynski hit a two-run blast that made it 7-3 in the seventh, Alejandro De Aza added a run-scoring groundout and Adam Dunn opened the eighth with a solo shot off the left-hander.
“I felt like I had great command of everything, I felt like I was finally on top of the ball, cutter, sinker, changeup, really good, curveball was really good, and that’s what I’m shooting for every time I’m out there,” said Romero, who struck out four. “I definitely felt like I was back to myself.”
A Rasmus error on Dayan Viciedo’s flare in the first allowed De Aza to score and knot the game up at one. After that, Romero kept the White Sox in check while waiting for his offence to do the damage.
And he continued to regain his command, walking just one for the second straight outing after issuing 21 free passes over his previous 23.1 innings.
“The five runs is no indication of how he pitched,” said Farrell. “I thought he pitched with a lot of conviction, a lot of quality fastballs down in the strike zone. By no means do I think Ricky pitched to the five runs, he was outstanding.”
STILL SMARTS: Encarnacion decided to play it safe and sit out after his right hand improved but enough for him to play.
The DH/first baseman was hit on the bottom of the right hand by Daniel Bard in Sunday’s 5-1 win over the Boston Red Sox, and while X-rays were negative, he awoke Monday feeling “bad, a lot of pain, a lot of soreness.”
“Today I’m feeling a lot better,” Encarnacion continued. It’s getting better and better and I just have to keep doing my routine, doing my training. … I picked up the bat (Tuesday) but I had no chance to swing the bat. I think (Wednesday) it will be better. I’ll see how I come (Wednesday).”
Encarnacion, batting .279/.348/.578 with 17 homers and 43 RBIs, initially tried to stay in Sunday’s game and ran the bases but realized quickly he couldn’t swing a bat for his next trip to the plate. He went in for X-rays afterwards and had to sweat out the results.
“With the pain I had that day I thought it was broken,” he said. “But thank God I’m OK, and it’s not broken. Right now I’ve been doing laser, ultrasound, been doing hot water and cold water, all that stuff to get the swelling down and then get my strength.
“If I play the way I feel right now, if I make contact, I’m going to have a lot of pain in my hand. I want to be smart and get ready. I think (Wednesday) will be a lot better.”
ROSTER MOVE: The Blue Jays optioned right-hander Jesse Chavez down to triple-A Las Vegas and on Tuesday will recall catcher/corner infielder Yan Gomes from the 51s, returning to a 13/12 split of position players/pitchers.
The club had kept an extra pitcher through the weekend in case one of its starters didn’t get deep into a game against the Red Sox, and then stayed that way an extra day while Gomes needed to wait the mandatory 10 days a player must spend in the minors once sent down.
“Our ability to go back to seven relievers is key for us,” said Farrell. “It gives us another potent right-handed bat to go against the left-hander, pretty good chance he might be on the field (Wednesday) going against (southpaw Jose) Quintana.”
FAMILIAR FACE: Zach Stewart, part of the price the Blue Jays paid to obtain Rasmus in a three-team deal with the Cardinals and White Sox last summer, allowed four runs, three earned, on six hits over 2.2 innings in relief of Humber (2-3).