Blue Jays’ Grichuk delivers dramatic win as pitching search continues

Toronto Blue Jays' Randal Grichuk watches his grand slam off Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Miguel Castro during the ninth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, in Baltimore. The Blue Jays won 11-10. (Julio Cortez/AP)

The Baltimore Orioles, you might have noticed, are quite terrible and there seems to be no lead big enough for them not to blow, something the Toronto Blue Jays, who trailed by as many as six runs, capitalized on in dramatic fashion Wednesday night.

Randal Grichuk followed Cavan Biggio’s RBI single in the ninth with a go-ahead grand slam and Reese McGuire’s run-scoring double added some needed insurance in an 11-10 victory that marked their second-biggest comeback of the season.

The Blue Jays rallied from seven runs down against the Tampa Bay Rays on July 27, capped by Teoscar Hernandez’s leadoff homer in the 12th inning.

This time, after a Bo Bichette RBI single in the sixth inning started to eat away at a 7-1 deficit, Hernandez hit a three-run shot off Shawn Armstrong in the seventh that made it a ballgame.

Hernandez’s three RBIs pushed his season mark to 58 while the home run was his 23rd, each a new career-best that’s one better than his 2018 output. This has been a tough year for the 26-year-old, who endured a demotion to triple-A and rode through a couple of extended dry spells but still has that tantalizing power.

The Orioles seemed to have recovered after the homer by tacking on a pair of insurance runs to take a 9-5 lead into the ninth, but that’s when Miguel Castro fell apart, issuing a one-out walk to Rowdy Tellez, a base hit to Richard Urena and another walk to Billy McKinney.

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After Bichette struck out for the second out, Biggio sent a line drive into right field to bring home Tellez and Castro then fell behind 3-1 to Grichuk before serving up a 95.8 m.p.h. sinker on the inner edge of the plate that the right-fielder pounded over the left-field wall.

The slam pushed him up to the 30-homer plateau for the first time in his career.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., then reach on an error by shortstop Richie Martin, and was shaken up ambling into second base, leaving the game with a left rib injury. Jonathan Davis came on as a pinch-runner and came around on McGuire’s double.

With Ken Giles unavailable to pitch on back-to-back days, Derek Law came out to pitch a nervous ninth. Austin Hays opened the inning with a bunt single ahead of a Mark Trumbo walk. After Pedro Severino flew out to the track in left for the first out, D.J. Stewart doubled off the right-field wall to bring home Hays and make it a one-run game.

After a four-pitch walk to Stevie Wilkerson loaded the bases, Jonathan Villar popped out to short left field before Trey Mancini grounded out to second to end one of the club’s wildest and, at four hours eight minutes, longest wins of the year.

A waiver claim and the bigger picture

Ryan Dull is flying into Baltimore on Thursday morning to become the 37th different pitcher used by the Toronto Blue Jays this year, a club record that doesn’t include the two appearances logged by catcher Luke Maile and a single outing from shortstop Richard Urena.

That’s, like, a lot of pitchers. Running through that many arms is a sure sign that things haven’t gone to plan, you’re rebuilding, or both. The Blue Jays are firmly mired in the “both” camp, and as a result, they’ve scavenged the sands like a desperate band of Jawas on Tatooine.

Dull, claimed off waivers from the New York Yankees, is their latest find, and when I tell you that in 10 big-league appearances for the AL East leaders and the Oakland Athletics he’s posted an ERA of 13.50 with a 2.735 WHIP, try not to think something snarky like, “Oh, he’ll fit right in.”

With Tim Mayza undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery Wednesday, the Blue Jays essentially had a 40-man roster spot freed up since they could put the lefty on the 60-day injured list, which they did to make room for Dull.

Taking a free look at the 30-year-old makes all kinds of sense, since as recently as 2016 he was a dominant, 2.3 WAR reliever for the Athletics. That year he logged 74.1 innings in 70 games, with a 2.42 ERA, a 0.874 WHIP and a 4.87 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He was legit good.

Knee troubles dogged him in 2017, he had shoulder problems last year and this year he hasn’t been able to get untracked, getting cycled from Oakland to San Francisco to New York to Toronto over the past six weeks.

If the Blue Jays can get him right, Dull’s a free reliever with an option remaining and a negligible arbitration award due over the winter. And though it’s been somewhat overshadowed by more glaring needs in the rotation and outfield, the Blue Jays also need to patch up their bullpen for 2020, and depth is not an organizational strength right now.

The more arms they look at now, the better, especially with 40-man roster decisions looming.

Dull and fellow waiver wire add Brock Stewart (claimed from the Dodgers on July 31) will be on the bubble to keep their 40-man roster spots, along with a handful of others.

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Currently, their 40-man roster is full and they have four players on the 60-day IL who in November will require a decision (Mayza, Ryan Borucki, Matt Shoemaker and Devon Travis), with only two pending free agents in Justin Smoak and Clay Buchholz, who allowed seven runs on 10 hits over 3.2 innings against the Orioles.

So there’s some roster pressure already there before the Blue Jays start considering players who must be added to the 40 to avoid eligibility in December’s Rule 5 draft. Anthony Kay and T.J. Zeuch were already rostered, but infielder Santiago Espinal (acquired last year from Boston for Steve Pearce), right-hander Thomas Hatch (acquired from the Cubs in July for David Phelps) and outfielder Forrest Wall (acquired from Colorado last year for Seunghwan Oh) are among those who will get serious consideration, too.

So Dull doesn’t have long to make enough of an impression to hang on to his roster spot over the off-season. But there’s opportunity for him and others in bullpen that next year may not return closer Ken Giles – a prime trade candidate – and is in need of more real options.

Fisher reels one in

Derek Fisher has taken a lot of grief for his defence since joining the Blue Jays at the deadline, so credit to him for taking a home run away from Jonathan Villar bottom one Wednesday.

The left-fielder went a pretty long way to get that one, helped by a healthy hang time that allowed him to make the play. There was surely some redemption in the moment, given that in his second start with the Blue Jays on Aug. 3 at Camden, he whiffed on a routine fly ball that ended up striking him in the face. Last week he had three misplays in a single game.

Still, Fisher has ample natural tools and they were on display in that catch. He seemed to fighting back a grin after the grab, leaving the awe to others.

Elvis is in the building

Elvis Luciano made his second appearance since returning from the injured list and the Blue Jays have been impressed with how the 19-year-old Rule 5 pick has been throwing since his return.

During a clean inning against the Orioles, he got five swinging strikes on 13 pitches, averaging 94.3 m.p.h., on a fastball that topped out at 95.6. It’s intriguing stuff, and as of now, the Blue Jays expect to stretch him out next spring and allow him to develop in the minors as a starter.

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