TORONTO – There is bigger-picture intrigue about the Toronto Blue Jays right now with prospect Matt Boyd making his big-league debut Saturday, and lots of reason to speculate about why the 24-year-old left-hander is potentially getting a shot now.
The entire matter was suspiciously cloak and dagger in the lead-up to Friday night’s 12-2 bashing of the fading fast Texas Rangers, behind a pair of Edwin Encarnacion home runs, as manager John Gibbons played very coy about who exactly would be taking the ball the next day.
After the game, the Blue Jays confirmed Boyd as their man, with Rob Rasmussen optioned to triple-A Buffalo to make room for him. How long he stays to some degree will depend on how he pitches, with Aaron Sanchez only expected to get back on a mound Monday.
“Give him a shot, let him run with it, see where it goes,” Gibbons said of Boyd, adding later: “If he pitches well, hey, maybe it’s his time.”
If the pre-game secrecy was designed to give the Rangers, losers of six straight, as little time as possible to prepare for Boyd, well, logic dictated it would be the left-hander all along after he was scratched from his start at triple-A Buffalo on Thursday, lining him up for the outing.
Word was the Rangers prepared for him anyway.
The more reasonable assumption is that the Blue Jays may have been trying to pull off a trade, perhaps one that includes Boyd. Even without a deal his outing Saturday may be some type of showcase, since up until Thursday it was Felix Doubront who was expected to take the fifth starter’s spot left vacant by Scott Copeland’s demotion last Sunday.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos has been trying hard to make something happen but has so far been unable to find a willing partner, with most teams still deciding whether they’re still in the race or not.
On the field, the Blue Jays continue to show that they’re a team that deserves bolstering, clubbing the Rangers in a rare laugher after consecutive high-stress series against American League East rivals Baltimore and Tampa Bay.
Encarnacion cranked his seventh career grand slam in the bottom of the first off Nick Martinez for a 4-1 lead, and he added No. 16, a solo job, in the seventh to open up an 11-2 advantage.
Russell Martin, with a solo shot in the third, and pinch-hitter Danny Valencia, off first baseman Adam Rosales in the eighth, also went deep as the Blue Jays scored early and often. Even after Prince Fielder homered with two out in the first off Mark Buehrle, they were in total control from start to finish.
“The thing I like (most) is we play like a team, everybody is playing together, we play like we’re supposed to play right now,” said Encarnacion. “Everybody is doing their part, we’re pitching, we’re hitting and we’re (playing good) defence, everything is together. That’s why we’re winning games like this.”
Buehrle was only in any sort of trouble once, when the Rangers put men on second and third with one out in the second, threatening to eat into the early Blue Jays advantage. But the veteran lefty held them to a Leonys Martin RBI groundout, Jose Reyes and Josh Donaldson knocked in runs in the bottom of the second for a 6-2 lead and you could feel the capitulation from that point on.
Buehrle allowed two runs on five hits and two walks over seven innings in improving to 8-4.
“I joke around with these guys and tell them I’ve never lost with 10-plus runs scored for me,” he quipped, although he’s also impressed with everything he’s seeing from the Blue Jays.
“We’ve got the pieces in here, and I said this even when we were terrible, I felt like we have the pieces in this clubhouse to get into the playoffs,” said Buehrle. “We’ve just got to keep on battling and it helps with this offence putting up the runs. Again, when the offence isn’t scoring runs, the pitching staff has to hold them down and win some low-scoring games. I can’t see into the future, but as far as I can tell with what’s in here, the chances of us going where we want to go, I like our chances.”
The victory moved the Blue Jays five games above .500 for the second time this season at 40-35, and with an offence that’s the most dominant in baseball plus a very strong defence, fortifying the pitching staff may be all that is needed to take them to the next level.
Perhaps Boyd is ready for the big time and helps push them to the next level, or maybe he’s bait for the piece or pieces they need. Either way, the Blue Jays may soon be as interesting off the field as they are on it.
NOTES: Edwin Encarnacion has been battling shoulder soreness off and on for a while, but says for the most part it doesn’t bother him. “When I make swings and misses I feel it more,” he explained. “We keep doing treatment, try to do the best we can to get it stronger and stronger, try to be healthy.” … Right-hander Miguel Castro returned from a hand injury to pitch a scoreless inning with two strikeouts for single-A Dunedin in a 5-4 loss to Clearwater on Friday. Castro had been at triple-A Buffalo before his injury, but the Blue Jays want him pitching in Dunedin for now in part because of the proximity to their rehab staff. … Outfielder Dalton Pompey, hit in the head by a pitch earlier this week, went 2-for-4 with a walk and three runs scored for double-A New Hampshire in a 9-0 win over Portland. It was his second game back after getting hit.