TORONTO – Yasiel Puig’s arrival earlier this week injected a dose of vigour into the Los Angeles Dodgers, and if the Toronto Blue Jays are looking for someone to provide a similar boost, they will likely need to wait until their injured stars return from the disabled list.
Their latest roster shuffle before Friday’s 6-1 win over the Texas Rangers was more about incremental gains, with Josh Thole offering manager John Gibbons more offence at the backup catcher spot than the designated-for-assignment Henry Blanco, and Andy LaRoche more infield depth than stop-gap solution in third baseman Brett Lawrie’s absence.
Even the day’s most intriguing move — the looming signing of veteran right-hander Chien-Ming Wang, who is expected to start Tuesday at Chicago against the White Sox — isn’t sure to offer the club a whole lot more than what the displaced Chad Jenkins could have provided.
The return of Dustin McGowan from the disabled list meanwhile, announced post-game with right-hander Todd Redmond optioned to triple-A Buffalo, further bolstered a bullpen that threw five innings of one-hit ball in the club’s third victory in four outings.
Put together, the moves are a significant set of small changes with the potential to collectively impact the club positively if all pan out. The likeliest in-house candidate to deliver a jolt like the one Puig — the electric and hulking Cuban slugger — is currently giving the Dodgers is shortstop Jose Reyes, who is sprinting but not yet ready to depart on a rehab assignment for his sprained left ankle.
If all goes well, maybe he’s back before the month ends.
So for now the Blue Jays must try to make steady gains with minor improvements – and more moves are due in the coming days – as they await the big boosts their potential catalysts may provide.
“We all understand that when Jose comes back it will be an infusion of energy, athleticism – I mean, you’re getting a perennial all-star back,” said R.A. Dickey. “It will be a pick me up, much like getting a Puig or someone like that.
“When you get a player like Jose back, you’re going to be better for it. Psychologically what that does, I’m not sure because teams with great players don’t always perform well, that doesn’t always correlate. But he will be a difference-maker.”
Brett Lawrie, Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ are others on the DL who can offer significant upgrades for the Blue Jays, but the timelines for their returns are even less clear.
Lawrie, who suffered a high ankle sprain May 27 when his left foot hooked onto second base during an awkward slide, has gone backwards since first suffering the injury and is now wearing a walking boot. While the initial thinking was that he’d miss a game or two, max, manager John Gibbons said Friday “we don’t know how long that’s going to be,” and his continuing absence is perhaps a bigger blow defensively than offensively.
Morrow, who came out of his last start May 28 with a forearm strain, is feeling better according to Gibbons, but still isn’t throwing, while Happ is playing catch but can’t return before July 7 at the earliest.
In the interim, additional help is arriving in the next few days with McGowan checking in Saturday and Darren Oliver due back from his rehabilitation assignments at Buffalo soon after.
Oliver may join the club in Chicago next week with Wang, who opted out of his contract with the New York Yankees on Friday to join the Blue Jays, according to a source. He was 4-4 with a 2.33 ERA in nine starts for triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, allowing 57 hits and 10 walks over 58 innings with 25 strikeouts.
With Josh Johnson rejoining the rotation with a strong outing in San Francisco on Tuesday and Esmil Rogers showing promise as a fill-in starter — right now the Blue Jays plan to ride him until Morrow’s return — adding an effective Wang could go a long way in shoring up the rotation’s steady inconsistencies.
More immediately, the Blue Jays will be looking for Thole to give them more offence on the days he catches Dickey, and perhaps an opportunity to rest J.P. Arencibia more often than the once every five games Blanco suited up.
While the timing was somewhat curious, coming right after Dickey’s best outing of the season, the knuckleballer expects little disruption from the change in receiver. Though Thole hasn’t caught him since last season with the New York Mets, they’ve worked together 66 times in the majors to the tune of a 3.14 ERA and a .249 opponent’s batting average.
“In a different situation where you don’t have Josh Thole coming up, yes, absolutely (there could be problems),” said Dickey. “But it’s nice to have Josh Thole in the holster because he has handled me well over the course of a pretty good season, and even the previous two seasons.”
Blanco went 7-for-38 (.184) in 15 games with three doubles and no RBIs and the Blue Jays are on the hook for the remainder of his US$775,000 unless another team claims him, which is possible.
Either way he received accolades from the Blue Jays on his way out, Dickey saying “it’s hard to lose a friend anytime, from a performance standpoint, he obviously has done admirably, and it’s for other people to tell you why he was sent out.”
Dickey says he wasn’t consulted about the move and said he wouldn’t want to be involved.
The challenge will be for Thole to pick up where things left off with Dickey last season, and if possible maintain the torrid hitting pace he put up at triple-A Buffalo. He was batting .322 with an OPS of .893 when the Blue Jays recalled him Friday morning.
“I suppose it shouldn’t be too hard, maybe a bullpen under my wing and should be fine going into the game,” Thole said of picking up the knuckleball again. For practice, roving catching instructor Sal Fasano “would come in and throw some knuckleballs just to goof around. That would be my best bet of trying to stay sharp.”
Both he and the rest of the Blue Jays need to get all the way there in a hurry. Reyes can be a big help when he comes back, but everyone else needs to ensure there’s something left for him to save by the time he finally arrives.