BALTIMORE – The past month has served as a period of roster transition for the Toronto Blue Jays, with the smooth integration of Brett Lawrie over the weekend in the gooey Maryland air the latest piece added to the puzzle.
The rookie third baseman capped his first series in the big-leagues by starting a third-inning rally that opened the scoring, made a handful of solid defensive plays, and later crushed his first homer in a 7-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday afternoon.
Just 21, the Langley, B.C., native finished his first three games in the major leagues a combined 5-for-11 with a homer, two RBIs and a run scored.
Those are some nice early returns for him to take into his home debut Tuesday against the visiting Oakland Athletics, where the fans will get a first-hand look at the much-hyped youngster.
"Obviously it’s a plus, because now I know I can stick here, I can play with these guys," Lawrie said of what the good weekend did for his already healthy confidence. "I knew I could before, it was just a question of me getting the opportunity to."
Combined with the recently acquired Colby Rasmus and the promotions of starter Brett Cecil and outfielder Eric Thames, the Blue Jays are moving closer to establishing a core they run with.
Their lineup is deeper than it’s been all season, and it’s starting to become strong enough to cover for down periods from Jose Bautista and Adam Lind.
"For us to compete in this division we have to have length and depth throughout the lineup," said manager John Farrell. "When you see the production out of the bottom half, it gives us the opportunity to not only manufacture runs, but to not give the opposing pitcher any time off.
"I know it’s just a three-game look at Brett, but this is extremely exciting."
It all combined to suspend their day-time woes.
Ricky Romero (10-9) did much of the heavy lifting with eight innings of four-hit ball, while Bautista, J.P. Arencibia and John McDonald each drove in a pair as the Blue Jays (58-56) improved their puzzling mark under the sun to 16-27 on a miserably sticky afternoon.
Like many of his teammates, the ace lefty has also struggled in the day time, coming into play 2-5 with a 3.90 earned-run average in 10 matinee starts, as opposed to a 7-4 mark with a 2.29 ERA in 12 outings under the lights.
But he was in total command against the Orioles (44-67), save for the two pitches that Mark Reynolds hammered over the wall in left field once the game was already well in hand. The second Reynolds homer travelled 450 feet, the sixth-longest in Camden Yards history and just the second to reach the second deck in left.
Romero struck out five and didn’t issue a walk for the first time since opening day. He’s now allowed just three earned runs in his past 24.1 innings against Baltimore over three starts, all wins.
"I wasn’t trying to do too much," he said. "I felt OK out of the bullpen and I just came and said I’m going to pound down. You have those days when you feel really good and then you let it go, but today was just go out there and pitch, hit spots and that’s what I did."
Lawrie got things going in the third against Alfredo Simon (4-4) with a sharp single to right and moved up when Josh Bell muffed a potential double-play grounder by Rajai Davis at third base.
An out later, after Davis had stolen second prompting Reynolds to play off the bag, Bautista sent a squibbler down the first-base line to open the scoring.
The Blue Jays piled on three more in the fourth on Arencibia’s two-run double and McDonald’s run-scoring double to make it 5-0, and after Reynolds hit his first in the fifth, Lawrie stepped up and sent a 2-1 fastball over the wall in centre for his first homer.
"That was good, I got a pitch I could handle," he said.
The Blue Jays got the ball back for him after giving the fan who caught it a ball autographed by Lawrie and a Rasmus bat.
Lawrie also looked to have settled in with the glove, making six outs from third base, including one that he needed to charge and throw on the run.
"It felt fine as soon as I got my feet underneath me. Now I just roll from there," he said, later adding that the main difference between triple-A and the majors he’s noticed is "just the bigger stadium, it’s the same game. Breaking pitches are thrown for strikes a little bit more and the game maybe seems a little bit faster.
"But it’s the same game."