Wilner: Arencibia under harsh spotlight

June 12, 2013, 2:16 AM

CHICAGO, Ill. — The Toronto Blue Jays were down to their final strike when Jose Bautista played hero in the ninth, going deep to force an extra inning in which his teammates plated a couple more runs to even their series against the Chicago White Sox in dramatic fashion.

Here are three things that stood out to me about the Blue Jays’ overtime victory:

Blue Jays Talk: June 11

HARSH SPOTLIGHT ON J.P.

J.P. Arencibia seems to have become the new lightning rod for Blue Jays fans’ distaste, now that it’s simply not possible to complain about Adam Lind anymore.

Arencibia is in the throes of a brutal slump. He added to it by going 0 for 4 Tuesday night, striking out three times, meaning he’s now had just three hits in his last 42 at-bats, with three walks to go against 16 strikeouts.

Compounding matters was the fact that in each of the three at-bats in which he struck out Tuesday, Arencibia was at the plate with a runner on third base and less than two out, so a hit wasn’t even required to drive in a run, just a fly ball. That he wasn’t able to accomplish even that, even once, raised the frustration levels of many Blue Jays fans to the point that Twitter was basically an Arencibia hate-fest for most of the game.

The thing around which I can’t wrap my head is that so many people seem to believe that this is the real Arencibia, this guy who can’t buy a hit right now, who is striking out close to every other at-bat and who often doesn’t even need to be thrown a strike at all. It seems as though that conclusion is jumped to for slumping players far more often than it is for players who are on fire, but it’s not true either way.

Arencibia is barely a third of the way through his third full season in the major leagues. He was a career .275/.319/.507 hitter as a minor pro, which includes a season basically lost to kidney and eye problems, but one in which he still had 500 at-bats. He was a first-round pick who made it to the majors on the strength of his bat. We haven’t seen it but for some tremendous — but too short — hot streaks and he’s always going to strike out a lot more than he walks, but Arencibia has never done anything that should lead people to believe that he’s going to struggle to reach base 25 per cent of the time on a regular basis.

He was miscast as a middle-of-the-order hitter, and the fact that he hit seventh on Tuesday night — especially against a left-handed starter — is a good sign. Truth is, you could do a lot worse for a bottom-third of the lineup catcher. It would be nice if people weren’t so quick to pile on when he’s down.

THE CONTINUING AWESEMNITY OF BRETTRICK G. CECIL

Cecil has taken to his conversion to the bullpen far better than anyone could have expected, even in their wildest dreams. The lefty likely would have been an afterthought to make the team out of spring training had he not been out of options, and the idea was that he’d come north as a long reliever/mop-up man. Instead, he’s become one of the most dominant relief pitchers in the game, and that domination continued with a perfect inning and two-thirds in back of Chien-Ming Wang, building a literally perfect bridge between the starter and the closer.

Cecil needed only 12 pitches to retire all five batters he faced, coming in with one out and nobody on in the eighth and going on to work a clean bottom of the ninth. The incredibly efficient stint, which earned him the win thanks to the Blue Jays scoring in the top of the 10th, continued a month-long run of dominance.

Since May 10, not only has Cecil not been scored upon in a dozen appearances covering 14.2 innings, he’s been all but untouchable. Throw out an intentional walk and the lefty has only allowed THREE of the last 47 batters he’s faced to reach base.

He’s working on a perfect game right now, having retired 20 batters in a row. Earlier this season, closer Casey Janssen came even closer, with 25 opposing hitters set down in order. Whether he gets it or not, it appears as though the Blue Jays have found themselves yet another dominant, dependable late-inning reliever.

A FINE DEBUT FOR CHIEN-MING

I had no idea what to expect from Wang when he took the mound for the first time as a Blue Jay, the first Jays player ever to wear No. 67.

The righty with the heavy, heavy sinker had a couple of great years with the Yankees until his career was derailed by a sprained ligament and torn tendon in his foot, an injury suffered running the bases in a 2008 interleague game in Houston. He’s never been the same since, and the 33 year-old was trying to work his way back to the bigs in the Yankees system when the Blue Jays scooped him out of triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre and put him on the mound in Chicago.

He’d posted a 2.33 ERA and 1.155 WHIP with the RailRaiders and he came out looking pretty good against the White Sox, retiring the side in order on just eight pitches in the first inning.

Wang wound up taking the game into the eighth, a feat that’s been far too rarely accomplished by a Blue Jays starter this season, and but for a bump in the road in the fourth and fifth, had a very strong start.

That bump was a pretty big one, though. At one point, Wang had eight straight Chicago hitters reach base against him, and his start (and perhaps his Blue Jays career) would have gone right down the tubes if not for two things: Bautista’s laser beam to third base which cut down Gordon Beckham trying to advance, ending the fourth, and Kawasaki being in absolutely perfect position in the fifth, which allowed him to snare Adam Dunn’s rocket line drive up the middle and turn It into an inning-ending double play.

Wang got a second wind after his Houdini act in the fifth, an inning in which the Pale Hose loaded the bases with nobody out but didn’t score. He came back out for the sixth and wound up retiring 11 of the last 12 batters he faced, more than likely earning himself another start, which is scheduled for Sunday afternoon against the Rangers in Texas.

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