Blue Jays show rust vs. Braves after weekend without games

The Atlanta Braves' Austin Riley is forced out at second base by Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette (11) on an Ozzie Albies ground ball. (John Bazemore/AP)

TORONTO – Randal Grichuk spent the past week getting treatment for the irritation in his lower back, and the downtime provided him an opportunity to observe a sideways week for his Toronto Blue Jays.

“It’s frustrating,” the centre-fielder said. “We all feel like we could easily be 6-1 right now, and should be. We played really good baseball and there were some breaks that didn’t go our way late in games and extra innings. But we’re confident. If you talked to the guys in the clubhouse, just through casual clubhouse talk, we’re excited for the season, we feel like we’re right in there with all of them. I don’t think a guy in the clubhouse doesn’t think we’re going to make the post-season this year. We’re confident in our ability and feel like we have a deep lineup.”

Up until Tuesday fair enough, but the Blue Jays didn’t play really good baseball in their return to action after the COVID-19-related postponement of a weekend series versus the Philadelphia Phillies, looking very much like a team coming off a four-day break in a 10-1 loss to Atlanta.

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Starter Matt Shoemaker, making his second start of the season on nine-days’ rest, wasn’t sharp with his command and allowed three homers and six earned runs, both matching the cumulative total from his first six outings with the Blue Jays.

He threw 88 pitches, 56 for strikes.

“It was frustrating to say the least, that’s the best way to put it,” said Shoemaker. “I’m not happy about it. Pretty fired up, still, but tomorrow is a new day. And I hate to even say this because I don’t want it to sound like an excuse, but it’s freaking hard to do that with nine days of rest. Pitching is about timing, it’s about rhythm, it’s about feel. When you have nine days off, it sucks. But you can’t control those things, you’ve got to control what you can control and I’ve got to man up and make better pitches.”

Shoemaker walked three but also generated 10 swinging strikes – six of them on his slider – although that’s the pitch Austin Riley ripped over the left-field wall for a three-run shot with two out in the fifth that ended Shoemaker’s night, and broke open a tight game.

The other homers came in the second, when Matt Adams hammered a sinker and Tyler Flowers drove a splitter.

“At times,” it was reliable, Shoemaker said of his slider. “Every inning it wasn’t even consistent or exactly where I wanted it to be. That’s what was so frustrating. I was all over the place. That’s very abnormal for me. I don’t even know how many walks I had, how many full counts I had (six). I definitely was out there battling. It’s a very big letdown when I thought in the that fifth inning I’d get out of that inning and give my team a chance to win, being down 3-1. I thought that (Riley homer) was a flyball out. It just kept going over the fence. So that really put us behind right there.”

The Blue Jays lineup, meanwhile, looked similarly out of sorts, although some of the credit for that belongs to Max Fried, the left-hander suddenly all the more pivotal to the Atlanta rotation with Calgary’s Mike Soroka suffering a season-ending Achilles tear Monday.

“I don’t want to come here and make excuses for my team but it’s not easy when you go and then stop and not play,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “You could say that we were rusty … but I don’t want to take anything away from (Fried). He pitched pretty well.”

Fried sprinkled four hits and two walks over six innings, generating seven groundballs and plenty of weak contact. The only run he surrendered came in the fifth, when Vladimir Guerrero Jr., hit the first of his two doubles down the left-field line, and eventually scored on an Anthony Alford single off Riley’s glove at third base.

To be fair Atlanta, now 8-4 after a sixth win in seven games, made for a tough opponent against which to regain bearings for the Blue Jays, who fell to 3-5. Even before their unexpected weekend off, they had been seeking to get untracked at the plate, with manager Charlie Montoyo trying to capitalize on a hot Teoscar Hernandez by inserting him into the No. 3 spot in the lineup.

That pushed Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and the slumping Guerrero down a spot in the order, and Guerrero was the only Blue Jays batter to collect multiple hits, and added a walk.

“That kid is key for our success here,” said Montoyo. “That was good to see good at-bats today and he looked really good so hopefully that will get him going.”

Despite a weekend in training mode while in limbo in Washington, it’s reasonable to think Blue Jays hitters will need a few days to regain their timing, and the same applies to resetting their rotation, as well.

The Blue Jays will hand the ball to ace Hyun-Jin Ryu on Wednesday and Nate Pearson on Thursday, trying to minimize their disruption. But Trent Thornton and Tanner Roark, who threw live batting practice Monday and Tuesday respectively, are both facing extended layoffs between outings when they get the ball in Boston this weekend.

Ryu, whose family joined him in Atlanta before leaving for their native South Korea because it’s “safer,” has been watching video and throwing on flat ground in trying to resolve his command issues. All the stops and starts this year have prevented him, and many others, from establishing the type of rhythm he’d have under normal circumstances.

“There is a bit of difference, just based on the command that I’m showing on the mound,” Ryu said through interpreter Bryan Lee. “Last year and the year previous to that my command wasn’t as off as how I started off this season. I’m not sure if it’s because of the shortened training, but it is something that I’m working extremely hard at and it will be one of my jobs to get better at and get the feel back for the pitches I throw.”

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More disruption looms “sometime this week,” when Montoyo says the Blue Jays will activate Chase Anderson from the injured list. The right-hander will apparently debut out of the bullpen since “we want to see Chase face some big-league hitters before we make whatever move in the rotation,” the manager added.

Adding to the upheaval is that Tuesday marked the Blue Jays’ 15th straight day on the road, with five more games to go before they arrive at their temporary home in Buffalo.

“It’s weird,” said Grichuk. “We had an off-day in Atlanta and there are two malls right next to us that are really nice, and being cautious I didn’t even want to go walk around in the malls. So, staying in my room all day (Monday) felt like the longest off-day ever. It’s definitely different this year but we’ll definitely be excited when we can get to Buffalo and be able to have a normal season moving forward, so to speak, because it’s been a long time being on the road.”

Par for the course in a year where abnormal is the new normal.

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