Blue Jays Notebook: Montoyo eyes re-acquired Font as an opener option

Marcus Stroman addresses the media after what could be his last start in Toronto following the Blue Jays 12-1 win over the Tigers Friday.

DETROIT — Alex Montoyo, the son of Toronto Blue Jays manager Charlie, had an interesting idea for his father when he learned the club had acquired right-hander Wilmer Font from the New York Mets earlier this week.

“‘Oh, good, he can be an opener for you,'” Toronto’s bench boss recalled his son telling him. “I said I agree with him. He’s done it before. And he’s done a good job with it. So, he’ll be an option for that.”

Montoyo knows Font well from their time together with the Tampa Bay Rays last season. Font opened a pair of games ahead of Matt Andriese last June before taking on a more traditional starter’s role for the Rays, pitching five innings or more on five day’s rest in a pair of outings later in the month.

Unfortunately, those two starts would be his last appearances of the season, as a lat injury sidelined him for the remainder of the year. It was a disappointing turn of events for Font, who had settled into a groove with the Rays, pitching to a 1.67 ERA over 27 innings after struggling significantly with both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics earlier in the season, which led to a pair of designations for assignment.

“Before he got hurt, he did a great job,” Montoyo said. “When we first got him from Oakland, he was good. He did a good job opening games.”

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Nevertheless, Font’s struggled to recapture what was working so well for him a year ago, which is why Toronto will be Font’s third stop this season. He began 2019 with the Rays, pitching to a 5.79 ERA through 14 innings of relief, before being traded to the New York Mets in early May and posting a 4.94 ERA over 15 outings, three in the rotation and the remainder out of the bullpen. That led to his designation for assignment last week and a trade that brought him to the Blue Jays in exchange for cash.

Having not pitched in a game in nearly two weeks, Font threw a 20-pitch side session Friday to keep his arm loose and will likely make a low leverage appearance out of Toronto’s bullpen in the coming days. But with Marcus Stroman likely to be dealt ahead of the trade deadline and the Blue Jays rotation having lacked reliability all season long, opportunities for Font to open games could present themselves soon.

Font certainly provides flexibility, serving both as a starter and multi-inning reliever this season. And he features a heavy fastball, averaging 94 m.p.h. on his heater and demonstrating an ability to run it up to 97 m.p.h. when he needs to. But he’s been homer-prone, allowing 10 over his 45 innings this season, with five of them coming in his last five outings as a Met. The Blue Jays hope a return to the opener role could help him recapture the success he experienced last season.

“He did a good job last year,” Montoyo said. “He could open for (Jacob) Waguespack, he could open for (Thomas) Pannone, he could open for (Ryan) Borucki.”

Hernandez continues working to turn season around

After hitting his fourth home run in as many games Friday, Teoscar Hernandez has raised his OPS 62 points in a week. That it now stands at .682, nearly 100 points below a league-average MLB outfielder, speaks to the depth of the hole Hernandez is trying to dig himself out of.

The 26-year-old had a miserable start to the season, batting .189/.262/.299 through the middle of May, which led to his demotion to Triple-A. He returned to the majors three weeks later with a revamped batting stance — hands lowered, leg kick eliminated, toe tap introduced — which produced immediate results as Hernandez put up 14 hits over his next 14 games, including four doubles and four homers.

After hitting his 12th home run of the season Friday, Hernandez now has an .826 OPS over 31 games since returning from his minor-league sabbatical. The stance adjustments he made have certainly helped, but Hernandez says the biggest key to his success at the moment is not focusing on those things at all.

“Right now, I’m just not thinking too much. Just trying to stay loose and be ready for every pitch,” he said. “Not thinking about hands, body, head, legs, or anything like that. I just try to stay in a good position to swing and try to get pitches that I can swing at and do damage on.

“I think at the beginning (of the season) I lost confidence. I was trying to do too much. I was trying a lot of different things that I’m not used to doing. And now I just feel like it’s me doing the same things that I was doing last year.”

What’s different from last year is Hernandez’s defensive position. He’s manned centre field since returning to the majors, an initially odd assignment considering his struggles in left that has worked out better than anyone could have expected.

It’s early days, but Hernandez has yet to make an error in centre through 252 innings at the position after he made three over 295.1 in left earlier this season. He isn’t considered a plus defender by any advanced metric — his DRS in centre stands at minus-6, and his UZR is minus-4.2. But his 94th percentile sprint speed allows him to cover plenty of ground, which helps make up for late jumps and inefficient routes as he continues to work on improving his reads.

“He’s played pretty well. And that’s credit to [first base and outfield coach] Mark Budzinski. He’s doing a great job with him — works with him every day,” Montoyo said. “And Teoscar’s gotten better in the outfield. I never saw him last year. I guess he wasn’t that great, from what I hear. But this year he’s played well. He’s done a good job. He’s worked hard.”

Stroman savours the moment

There were plenty of interested parties in attendance at Comerica Park Friday night for what was likely one of Marcus Stroman’s final starts as a Blue Jay. From the pockets of blue-shirted, Canadian fans who made the trip across the border, nearly outnumbering Tigers fans in their own ballpark, to the small horde of scouts from MLB clubs in attendance to get a first-hand look at Stroman’s stuff as the trade deadline approaches, all eyes were on the Blue Jays starter.

And Stroman gave them a great show, mixing and matching with sinkers, cutters and sliders as he spun a seven-inning shutout. He struck out five and didn’t walk a batter, featuring many of the varied delivery tempos and arm slots on the mound that can make him such a tough matchup for MLB hitters.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

As he walked off the mound at the end of his outing, Stroman acknowledged a small pocket of Blue Jays fans behind the visitors’ dugout that had been faithfully cheering for him throughout the night, showing his appreciation with some applause of his own. But did he notice the gaggle of scouts behind the plate that were just as dialled in to his every move?

“I couldn’t care less, to be honest. I feel like you can watch a game from home the same as watching it from behind, as far as spin rate and all the things that they get as far as video. I don’t even know why they show up, you know?” Stroman said. “It makes it fun, I guess. But I honestly don’t think too far into that.”

Stroman did admit he’s been taking time to enjoy his moments in a Blue Jays uniform this week. He’ll all but certainly be traded by July 31, with excellent outings like Friday’s — not to mention the additional year of club control that increases his market value — only making that outcome more likely.

Stroman’s been vocal about his desire to remain with Toronto and continue pitching for the Blue Jays as they turn the corner on a rebuild. But there does not appear to have been any substantial extension talks between the two sides. So, these days, whenever Stroman interacts with teammates in the Blue Jays clubhouse, it takes on additional meaning.

“Vladdy (Guerrero Jr.) was, like, hugging me a few weeks ago. He was kind of upset, you know what I mean?” Stroman said. “Because he felt like there was a bunch of rumours going on — and you could see him, he was like, ‘Papi, I don’t want you to go. I don’t want you to go.’ So, it’s going to be tough, if that day does happen. But it’s a business. It is what it is.”

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