TORONTO — Marco Estrada can’t reinvent himself at this stage of his career. But he can put a little grey in his otherwise black and white game and with the Toronto Blue Jays resolved to maximize their assets ahead of the trade deadline, that’s about the best hope.
There weren’t exactly a million major league scouts in attendance Sunday for Estrada’s outing against the Baltimore Orioles — I spoke to one, there may have been two or three others. Truth is, out of all the Blue Jays starters right now it is J.A. Happ who will bring the largest return. A huge selling point is his career earned run average in the tough American League East, 2.85 since he returned to the Blue Jays in 2016 a changed pitcher and 3.28 overall since 2014, which according to Sportsnet Stats is seventh-best within the division among all pitchers who’ve made 10-plus starts and pitched 100-plus innings. Happ is even more valuable to any team with an eye on the short-term because he will carry a possible compensatory pick as a free agent.
Estrada seems to have righted the ship in his last two starts, tossing six innings against the New York Yankees and six against the Orioles, dropping his ERA to 5.09 from 5.68 after a 3.2-inning nightmare against the Boston Red Sox. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons is one who is buying into whispers that perhaps Estrada’s faced the AL East so often that his stuff makes opponents comfortable.
“I’d buy into it, because you face these guys so many times and if you’re a pinpoint control guy, they can eventually get on you,” he said. Gibbons believes that’s especially the case for right-handers, adding that “I think it’s a little easier for lefties to come up with something different. Guys see them differently.”
So it’s significant that Estrada has gone out of his way after his last two starts to laud catcher Russell Martin’s game-calling.
“It’s what we’re doing right now,” Estrada said Sunday, when asked if he sometimes wished he could come up with something to surprise these all-too familiar opponents. “The first two years I was here, there were a lot of fastballs and change-ups and I think a lot of hitters started picking up on it.
“Last season, I had a couple of rough months where the change-up was just getting crushed and after that we started to mix it up a bit. Right now, you know, I’ve been struggling for a little bit and now we’re using all four pitches. I’m going to have to add to this; I feel like I never seem to skip any of these AL East teams, so I do have to mix it up a bit.”
Estrada is 20-19 (3.95) within the AL East since he was acquired by the Blue Jays from the Milwaukee Brewers in the winter of 2014. He says the swings-and-misses he’s been getting since Martin tossed the game plan that wasn’t working into the mix-master – as well as the number of times that hitters are out in front of his change-up, even when they homer – tell him he’s on the right track.
We’ll have to trust him on that. The Blue Jays don’t expect a Happ-like return for Estrada (who is also free-agent eligible) but they want at least as much as they received for Francisco Liriano. The guess here is they’ll have to move Estrada to a National League team. For him, a nice big ballpark with lots of outfield space would be optimal.
NOW TWEET THIS
In which we ask Ovi to put his damn shirt on and pull up his pants; scratch our heads at the Jays next opponent; toast Jonathan Osorio … and wonder if there’s soon going to be another Mayor in Toronto ….
• I’m really happy that Ovi has won the Stanley Cup. But he’s straying into a Rob Gronkowski caricature with his inebriated displays. Ovi? More like OV, as in Old Vienna. Time to put the shirt on and the beer away and class it up a bit Ove #comradelyadvice
• With Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., out for a month at least with a patella strain in his left knee, can we all agree to not speak about him coming up until the July 31 trade deadline at the very, very earliest? #merciful
• Rays have winning streaks of 8, 6 and 5 games and two 8-game and one 5-game losing streaks. The Yanks and Astros are the other teams with 3 separate streaks of 5 or more wins #maddening
• I wasn’t far off when I wrote Draymond Green would be a difference-maker in the final. He contested 42 two-pointers and 27 three-pointers, holding the Cavs to 49.0 and 22.0 per cent respectively. The latter is 15.5 per cent below average #beast
• One of the best sports stories in Toronto is the emergence of TFC’s Jonathan Osorio, that rare Canadian soccer player with a scoring touch. He is precisely the type of player that will benefit from new national coach John Herdman’s approach #emergence
• Newsflash to the Capitals: just because you’re in D.C. it doesn’t mean you’ll be absolved from being political pawns if you visit the White House. Donald Trump’s decision regarding the Eagles removed any doubt it’s a political thing #lapdogs
• Sean Casey (know as ‘The Mayor’ in his playing days) is a person to keep an eye on in any Blue Jays coaching shuffle. The three-time all-star was a favourite of Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro in Cleveland and is currently an analyst with the MLB Network #connected
• Their spring training digs in Clearwater are just 14 years old – there’s toilet paper older in the Blue Jays complex – but the Phils want county assistance in a $79-million refurbishment that will include dorms for minor leaguers #IrememberVeroBeach
THE END GAME
Hockey people wonder what the Vegas Golden Knights have in store for an encore in 2018-2019 but my friend Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports suggests the organization has already established itself as a possible preferred destination for free agents. Why wouldn’t it? There’s no state income tax in Nevada and I would imagine that any fear of the unknown has been removed by the manner in which the city rallied around the team and by the manner in which Gerard Gallant coaches that team.
Hot weather, low taxes … an ability to join a team that can win quickly? Count me in. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman gets pilloried for his sunbelt strategy but as far as he can tell he’s nailed it with three franchises – Nashville, Tampa Bay and Vegas – and pooched it with the Atlanta Thrashers, Florida Panthers and Arizona Coyotes. If you’re going to make him wear the failures, you need to give him credit for the successes. Next up besides Seattle should be putting a team in Houston …
Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9-11 a.m. and Baseball Central from 11 a.m.-Noon on Sportsnet 590/The Fan. He also appears frequently on Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown.