MINNEAPOLIS – Years from now, if Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette become the players the Blue Jays hope they can be, looking back at lineups like this might be a little disorienting.
Eric Sogard was leading off? Where did the Blue Jays find Alen Hanson? What happened to Socrates Brito? Of course the Blue Jays are hoping those players perform well enough to stick around, and maybe they will. There are reasons to be intrigued by all three, and Sogard’s three-hit night certainly contributed to the Blue Jays’ dramatic 6-5 win Tuesday.
The hero, once again, was Teoscar Hernandez, who drove in two with a single and later started the game-ending relay that prevented C.J. Cron from scoring the tying run. Starter Aaron Sanchez kept the Blue Jays competitive for six innings, and Ken Giles returned from illness to save the game.
“We know what we’re capable of doing here,” Sanchez said. “It’s good. It’s a lot of confidence for these guys moving forward.”
Without a doubt, there were plenty of positives for the Blue Jays, even if their lineup doesn’t inspire as much fear as it did a few years ago. If you’re a rebuilding team, you need veterans like Sogard and you almost have to take shots on talented players like Brito when they run out of opportunity elsewhere. Occasionally a late-blooming star might emerge. Even when you miss, the downside’s usually limited.
In theory, it makes of sense. Yet in practice, the slow start to Brito’s Blue Jays career reinforces how frustrating those experiments can be. After a three-strikeout night Tuesday, Brito’s hitless in 21 at-bats, a club record for a player starting his Blue Jays career. To this point, the promise that intrigued the Blue Jays when they acquired him from San Diego just hasn’t been on display.
“He’s swinging at a lot of bad pitches,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “I talked to him before the game and gave him all the confidence. ‘You’re playing centre. Have fun.’ But the moment guys start the game, it’s up to them to make the adjustment. He has to make an adjustment.”
Brito arrived in Toronto with a career triple-A batting line of .303/.352/.484 and the ability to play centre field. “There’s incredible, incredible upside and potential with him,” GM Ross Atkins said recently.
A few weeks ago, that potential intrigued the Blue Jays enough to send Anthony Alford to triple-A. As an out of options player, Brito can’t go to the minors without first passing through waivers, whereas Alford faces no such restrictions.
Now, the Blue Jays have to determine whether Brito still deserves those at-bats. Alford, a highly-regarded prospect, has close to a full season’s worth of at bats at triple-A now, so he doesn’t need the reps in the same way that someone like Bichette does. By way of comparison, Alford has had just 32 plate appearances at the MLB level. At some point, the Blue Jays will presumably give him an extended look in the majors.
Of course it’d be unfair to judge Brito on 21 at-bats, but when 10 of those are strikeouts that’s not a good sign. Plus, there’s a chance Brito would go unclaimed given his recent struggles, allowing the Blue Jays to keep him, too.
That’s a decision for the front office to contemplate over the coming days and weeks. Back on the field, Hernandez was at the centre of the action for the second consecutive night. He contributed in all facets of the game, with an outfield assist in the first, a walk in the second and a decisive two-run single in the seventh.
He also ran into an out on the bases for the second day in a row, when he rounded first too aggressively after his single and forced Justin Smoak into a rundown. All told, it’s been a busy and productive series for Hernandez, who made up for a baserunning mistake with a loud home run Monday.
“When you get a hit with the bases loaded to give your team the lead, it gives you more confidence going to play defence and even into the next at-bat,” he said.
Most dramatic of all was Hernandez’s second assist of the day. With Cron heading home as the potential tying run, Hernandez retrieved the ball from the left field corner and threw to Freddy Galvis who sent the ball to Danny Jansen for the final out.
“That was the perfect relay,” Montoyo said. “Everybody’s thinking about Galvis making that play, but to me the big one was Teoscar getting that ball quick and making a perfect throw to Galvis.”
“Unbelievable,” Sanchez added. “Two perfect throws to end the game.”
As for the Blue Jays’ pitching, two homers undermined an otherwise promising night for Sanchez. The right-hander allowed four runs over six innings, walking four while striking out five. He averaged 95 m.p.h. with his fastball and showed off an effective curve, but Jorge Polanco and Eddie Rosario both went deep to account for the first four Minnesota runs.
Another strong effort from the bullpen secured the comeback win for the Blue Jays, who improve to 7-11 with the win. After missing Monday’s game due to illness, Giles threw under the supervision of pitching coach Pete Walker Tuesday afternoon. The bullpen session went well and a few hours later Giles closed out the win with his typical upper-90s velocity.
His presence in the bullpen answers a key question for the Blue Jays. One less thing to wonder about for a team very much in transition.