BALTIMORE – The Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles opened a three-game series Tuesday night separated by only three games in the standings. In the not too distant past, that would have signalled a tight fight between the clubs for a post-season berth, at least, if not a place atop the American League East. In this trying present, it’s a signal of the hotly contested race for a better pick in the 2020 draft. Watch your backs Kansas City Royals and Miami Marlins.
At least the sky atop Camden Yards was pretty, since the game on the field below it very much wasn’t, a plodding, pitch-filled, action-deficient 4-2 Orioles victory.
Coming off a three-game sweep in which they were outscored 22-4 by the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Blue Jays managed to not get boat-raced in this one, as Eric Sogard hit his third leadoff homer this season and Trent Thornton got through the lineup once unscathed.
But in the third inning, the rookie right-hander surrendered four consecutive hits, including RBI doubles by Trey Mancini and Chance Sisco, that gave the Orioles a 2-1 lead. Then in the fourth, a miscommunication in right field between Sogard and Randal Grichuk allowed an Anthony Santander fly ball to drop and Jonathan Villar to easily score a gift run.
With the Blue Jays bats dormant since an 11-7 win over the New York Yankees last Wednesday, that was too tall a hill to climb. Randal Grichuk’s RBI double in the eighth was not enough to prevent a fifth straight loss.
Blue Jays hitters have now gone 16 straight innings without multiple hits in the same frame. They struck out 13 times in this one, the 33rd time this season they’ve finished a game with a double-digit strikeout total.
"Swing at good pitches," Grichuk replied when asked how the team might pull itself from an extended funk. "If we’re swinging at pitches over the plate and getting out from it, that’s easier to swallow than swinging out of the zone and not putting together good at-bats. As long as we’re putting together good at-bats, if hits aren’t falling, you can live with that."
BICHETTE ON MEND
Bo Bichette, the top Blue Jays prospect with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., now playing regularly in the majors, appeared in both ends of a doubleheader with single-A Dunedin against the Florida Fire Frogs, going 4-for-5 as the DH in an 11-0 win before a 1-for-3 nightcap as the shortstop in a 2-0 victory.
That may very well spell the end of his rehab assignment from a broken hand, as he’s expected to rejoin triple-A Buffalo later this week, possibly as early as Thursday. Once back with the Bisons, the countdown to his big-league debut will be on, as when he’s performing consistently and fully has his legs underneath him, he’s sure to be promoted.
Bichette should certainly help an offence desperate for impact of any kind, although one very talented 21-year-old is no panacea. Guerrero’s arrival is proof of that. Still, the Blue Jays want him to get his feet wet and begin advancing the development process.
ONE BAD INNING
Trent Thornton kept the Yankees under his thumb through the first four innings in his last outing, but things nearly got away from him in the fifth, when he allowed five straight batters to reach on four hits and a walk, leading to three runs and a 4-3 deficit.
Manager Charlie Montoyo gave him the rope to get out of his own mess in that one and Thornton went through a similar frame against the Orioles. Three of the hits — Santander’s single, Mancini’s double and a Renato Nunez single — all came off sliders, while Sisco’s double was off a four-seam fastball.
Still, Thornton bent but didn’t break, rallying to strike out Rio Ruiz and getting Hanser Alberto on a fly ball to right.
"I went back and looked at it and they put some pretty good swings on good pitches, you have to tip your cap when they do that," said Thornton. "I left one out over the plate but other than that I felt pretty good with pitch execution. I had a few walks that (second) inning, but I was able to get out of it. Got to move forward."
Thornton allowed three runs on seven hits and three walks with four strikeouts in five innings.
Given the state of their offence, the Blue Jays can’t afford to give away runs, which is precisely what they did in the fourth. Santander lifted a lazy fly ball down the right field line which both Sogard and Grichuk chased.
As they were about to converge, each peeled off, the ball falling right in between them, a free run coming around.
"Sogie had it the whole way and he thought I called it when it was somebody in the stands," explained Grichuk. "Unfortunate. You hear about their fans down that line, they’re so close that they’ve gotten players thinking it was somebody else calling for it on the team but it’s actually them. Just unfortunate."
Thornton did well to manage the frustration, limiting the damage by getting Mancini to ground out to third.
Perhaps in a touch of karma the Blue Jays got a dose of payback in the eighth, when Grichuk’s fly ball down the right-field line fell just beyond the reach of Chris Davis, allowing Lourdes Gurriel Jr., to come around and make it a 3-2 game.
"Thankfully that one dropped, it got us a run and made it a one-run ballgame," said Grichuk.
With a chance to tie the game, Justin Smoak grounded out to third, just like Mancini.
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) June 12, 2019
The Blue Jays had planned to skip Edwin Jackson on Wednesday but the right-hander will indeed get the ball after lefty Thomas Pannone was needed over the weekend against Arizona.
Intriguingly, Montoyo said Sean Reid-Foley was considered for a spot start. The right-hander struggled in a spot big-league start back in April, had a tough time finding the zone at triple-A Buffalo afterwards but has been a bit better recently.
PLAY SOME D
A Stevie Wilkerson single and Jonathan Villar double produced the fourth Orioles run in the eighth but some clever defence helped the Blue Jays get out of the inning.
Danny Jansen noticed the speedy Villar straying off the bag at second and threw a strike behind him, forcing a rundown. Freddy Galvis calmly gave chase before making a perfect throw to Brandon Drury at third base for the tag to end the inning.
"That was a heads-up play (from Jansen)," said Montoyo. "And a nice play by Galvis (on the throw). It seems like it’s easy but it’s not that easy to throw around the runner. Good play by Danny and Galvis."
Jansen has now thrown out 10 would-be base-stealers in 29 chances.