TORONTO — Toronto Blue Jays third base coach Brian Butterfield would love a mulligan on a season of hope that went so awry. It sounds like he and the rest of the coaching staff are going to get exactly that.
Manager John Farrell said before Tuesday’s 4-3 win over the Minnesota Twins that while things aren’t yet finalized with general manager Alex Anthopoulos, “nothing suggests right now that changes will be made” to his seven-man crew.
Butterfield, bench coach Don Wakamatsu, first base coach Torey Lovullo, hitting coach Dwayne Murphy, pitching coach Bruce Walton, bullpen coach Pete Walker and extra coach Luis Rivera are all on one-year deals that expire at season’s end, and should learn their status before heading home.
Changes may still be made — Lovullo interviewed with the Boston Red Sox last year and his name continues to be connected with their expected managerial opening, for instance, and the Blue Jays have kicked around the idea of promoting Chad Mottola from triple-A to serve as an assistant to Murphy — but it seems the Blue Jays are opting for stability and continuity.
“I haven’t given any thought as to what may or may not happen because it happens every year,” said Butterfield. “We’re always on one-year deals, and there’s not enough time as you’re preparing for 162 games to think about what may or may not happen. I know there’s been frustration for us because we’re competitive guys, we want to win, just like the players want to win.”
Butterfield, 54, is the longest-serving Blue Jays coach, hired on June 3, 2002 as part of manager Carlos Tosca’s staff, with Walton joining on four days later as the bullpen coach. The way things have played out this year has been difficult for all involved, with a host of challenges for the coaches.
“One of the most frustrating things is during the trip to Seattle (July 30-Aug. 1), we were right there in the hunt and the next thing you know we had a little bit different of a club, a club that was in the process of learning and we ended up losing a lot of games,” he said. “You talk to any player or coach in this game, when you’re sniffing it right there at the halfway mark and then all of a sudden it’s difficult to win games, then there is some frustration.
“Getting a bunch of young guys that are learning at the major-league level, that maybe aren’t quite ready for the big-leagues, that’s certainly not their fault, but when you have a lot of players that are learning at the big-league level and you’re playing in the greatest league in the world, sometimes it becomes a little bit more difficult to win games.”
Like everyone else around the Blue Jays, he’d welcome an opportunity to start with a clean slate and a healthy roster. He intends to spend a week decompressing and visiting his grandchildren once after Wednesday’s finale before he starts worrying about his next one-year contract.
“I have no problem with it at all,” he said of living with the short-term commitment. “I come and do my job to the best of my abilities and I expect good things to happen. I don’t worry about it, and it’s something that I practise because we always try to tell the players don’t worry about the things you have no control over — we have to do the same. You just work as hard as you can and hopefully your work is your agent and people take notice. If they don’t you move on.”
THE BIG PICTURE: The Blue Jays (72-89) won for the fourth time in six outings before a crowd of 13,930, ensuring they will finish fourth in the American League East, ahead of the Boston Red Sox. The Twins (66-95) lost their fourth in a row.
COMPANY FOR JOSE: Blue Jays second baseman Kelly Johnson grabbed himself a dubious piece of club history by matching Jose Canseco’s record of 159 strikeouts in a single season by going down looking against Anthony Swarzak (3-6) in the second.
Johnson also contributed in this one, clubbing his 16th homer of the year and just his second since Aug. 15, a two-run shot in the fourth that made it 3-0.
“Seems how I did not know about that until just now, can’t say I put a whole lot of thought into that,” Johnson said of following his strikeout with a homer. “The home run was good, good to drive in a couple of runs, good to win that game and have that be a big hit.”
His career high for strikeouts was set last season at 163 combined for Arizona and Toronto.
THE ARMS: Rookie Chad Jenkins (1-3), pitching on short rest in place of Carlos Villanueva, picked up his first big-league victory with five-plus solid innings of work.
The big right-hander didn’t allow a run to cross until the sixth inning, when he coughed up a two-run shot to Denard Span, ending his night. He allowed five hits and a walk with two strikeouts in all, giving him a welcome end to a season that began with plenty of struggles at double-A New Hampshire.
“This felt a long ways away,” he said. “There were parts of this year where I wasn’t sure if I was going to get here. Fortunately the Blue Jays gave me a chance, now I’m trying to run with it.”
Jenkins made 20 starts for the Fisher Cats, posting a 5-9 record with a 4.96 ERA, that last number helped by a strong three-start stretch before he was called up in early August. Opponents hit .310 against him.
“My hardest time was right around July 4,” said Jenkins. “I think I went three starts in a row, gave up double-digit hits, there was a point right then and there where I was like, it’s tough, I’m not sure how this season is going to end up. Fortunately enough I was able to turn things around.”
THE BATS: Around Johnson’s homer in the fourth, the Blue Jays opened the scoring on Rajai Davis’s RBI single in the third, and went up 4-0 on Yunel Escobar’s run-scoring single in the fifth. Escobar was thrown out at second trying for a double.
The Blue Jays were once again without Edwin Encarnacion, who missed a third straight game with soreness and tightness in his upper left trapezius muscle. His absence is helping Miguel Cabrera’s quest for the triple crown, as Encarnacion is two homers behind the Detroit Tigers slugger.
DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH: Twins starter Scott Diamond’s first memories of the Rogers Centre are idyllic ones as a 12-year-old, or so, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, the roof open, the CN Tower popping from a blue sky, a late Blue Jays rally winning the game.
“That’s etched in my memory,” said the native of Guelph, Ont. “Those were the weekends you looked forward to and that helped fuel the dream a little bit. It was a little motivator.”
A reward comes in Wednesday’s season finale, when Diamond takes the mound against the Blue Jays to conclude a breakout season. The left-hander is 12-8 with a 3.54 ERA in 26 starts, one of the few bright spots in a dismal Twins season.
It won’t be his first time pitching at the Dome, as Diamond allowed one run over three innings of relief in Canada’s 6-2 loss to Italy in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. This time, things will be different.
“It’s more important to me from a personal standpoint just because of where I grew up and what it means to me to be able to pitch in Toronto,” said Diamond. “I’m trying to treat it as just another game, it’s the closing of the season, but what better way could I ask for than to finish up in Toronto.”