DUNEDIN, Fla. – The Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles are becoming quite familiar with each other this spring.
A week and a half into the Grapefruit schedule, the teams have already squared off four times, and the Jays’ Friday the 13th victory was their third against the O’s so far.
Here’s what I liked and what I didn’t about the game:
THE RUNNING GAME: The Blue Jays’ three-run rally off Ubaldo Jimenez in the second inning was keyed by some derring-do on the base paths. Jose Bautista was hit by a pitch leading off, and thought about picking a sleeping Jimenez’s pocket on a pitch to Daric Barton, but backed off and slapped his hands in frustration, knowing he could have had a stolen base. But Jimenez bounced the next pitch, Bautista took off as soon as the ball hit the dirt and was able to get to second.
Barton then lofted a little flare to short left-centre and Bautista read it perfectly, scoring on a hit on which the vast majority of big-leaguers would have only wound up on third as a result of waiting to see the ball drop.
Kevin Pillar was next, and he hustled hard down the line to beat out a double play ball -- give Barton a nice assist for breaking things up at second base. Pillar was on the run when Danny Valencia singled to left, and he kept on going all the way to third. As he stood there, Valencia, who had watched Jimenez ignore Bautista earlier, took off for second before the O’s starter had even gone into his motion and stole second without a throw. Both runners scored easily on Chris Dickerson’s two-run double to right.
GOINS TO GET ‘EM: Ryan Goins hasn’t been much of a topic of discussion this spring, with most assuming that Maicer Izturis will win the second-base job, perhaps to only keep it warm for Devon Travis, with Ramon Santiago and the out-of-options Steve Tolleson the top candidates to be the Blue Jays’ utility infielder. But Goins has had a terrific spring with the bat, hitting .313/.353/.438 in, I will grant you, only 16 at-bats, and he reminded us Friday just how good he can be with the glove, as though such a reminder was necessary.
In the top of the eighth, Rey Navarro hit a ground ball up the middle and Goins ranged far to his right to snag it, then quickly planted, spun and threw a bullet off his back foot to nip the Orioles’ second baseman. Never mind the ridiculous throw, Goins had no business even getting to the ground ball at all.
BETTER THAN HIS LINE: Aaron Sanchez allowing two runs on five hits over 3.1 innings doesn’t look like a good day at all -- in fact, he had a 5.40 ERA and 1.500 WHIP for the game, but this was one of those instances when the line didn’t tell the tale. Two of the five hits Sanchez allowed didn’t even make it past the pitchers’ mound, another was a weak ground ball through an open right side created by a defensive shift and yet another was a little duck snort that just fell in front of a sliding Jose Bautista. He allowed one hard-hit ball, Henry Urrutia’s second-inning RBI double to right-centre, and didn’t walk anyone.
Sanchez faced 15 hitters and 12 of them hit ground balls. There was a strikeout as well. That’s a really good day at the office, no matter what the line says.
PUT IT IN YOUR POCKET: Both Sanchez and Russell Martin made a throwing error, and both were on plays on which they’d have been better off just holding onto the ball and conceding a single. Martin made a tremendous, athletic play on Everth Cabrera’s little nubber in front of the plate leading off the game, but he wound up in an awkward position and threw anyway -- the ball going down the right-field line. Sanchez did a great job fielding Travis Snider’s chopper in the third, the high bouncer was hit over his head and Sanchez gloved it while moving backwards and climbing the mound at the same time. Off-balance, Sanchez wasn’t able to get his footing and fell, but he threw the ball as he was falling (bad idea) and his throw was nowhere near Barton at first.
Martin was bailed out by Bautista’s outstanding throw to get Cabrera at third, and Sanchez bailed himself out by getting a ground out and a strikeout after his error. To his credit, Martin had to play two more balls out in front of the plate in the game, and he made strong, accurate throws from a great position both times.
TROUBLE FINDING THE PLATE: Wilton Lopez threw a shutout sixth inning, but didn’t look all that good doing it. The Blue Jays’ bullpen hopeful was consistently behind in the count, walked a man, threw a wild pitch and gave up a hardline single before ringing up Ryan Flaherty to end the inning. Lopez could be an impact arm in the back of the Jays’ bullpen, but he’s coming off basically a lost season -- he didn’t pitch after June 30 because of elbow soreness -- and it’s going to take him some time to get comfortably back into his mechanics.
OUCHIE: Blue Jays fans got their Friday the 13th scare early, when Jimenez drilled Bautista on the right hand in the second inning. Bautista was clearly in pain, wringing out his hand as he walked down the line to first base. John Gibbons wanted to take him out, but Bautista waved off his replacement and stuck around to single and walk later in the game.
It’s been a bad enough news week for the Blue Jays already, the last thing they need piled on is an injury to their best hitter, but he was fine.
Blue Jays baseball returns to the radio -- and remains online, of course -- for the next eight games, starting with Saturday’s affair against a split squad of New York Yankees led by Esmil Rogers as Daniel Norris gets the start for the home nine.
Dioner Navarro will join Jerry Howarth and me, as Joe Siddall gets fancy with the television folk once again. We’re on the air at 12:30 p.m. ET. Make sure to join us!