Blue Jays spring training takeaways: Bautista takes care of business

Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista (19), pictured above. (Nathan Denette/CP)

DUNEDIN, Fla. – The Blue Jays fought back from a pair of separate three-run deficits to notch a tie with the visiting Philadelphia Phillies, improving their disappointing and yet irrelevant spring record to 1-5-1.

Nine Blue Jays pitchers appeared in the game – hence the lack of an extra inning or two – and six of them emerged with clean sheets, including J.A. Happ, who tossed two innings of one-hit shutout ball in his spring debut, and Roberto Osuna, who fired a hitless third inning in his second outing.

Here’s what stood out to me about the Jays’ tie with the Phillies:

LOCKED IN

Two Blue Jays hitters continued their terrific springs, with Jose Bautista taking care of business early on and Rowdy Tellez finishing things up.

Bautista absolutely scorched the ball twice on his 2-for-2 day. In the first inning, he took Phillies starter Aaron Nola off the top of the left-field wall with a laser beam hit so hard that he was forced to stop at first base and settle for a single. After a third-inning walk, Bautista absolutely obliterated a 3-0 fastball from Ben Lively, driving it well out of The FAES. The three-run homer sailed out of the yard just to the left of the batters’ eye.

The slugger, soon to be heading down to Miami to join Team Dominican Republic at the World Baseball Classic, is 5-for-10 to begin the spring, with a double to go along with Thursday’s home run.

Tellez didn’t make it into the game until the sixth inning, when he took over for Justin Smoak, and he didn’t get up to the plate until the eighth. On that first trip, he crushed a line drive to short right field, but the Phillies had the shift on, and second baseman Scott Kingery was standing right there to haul in it.

Tellez got up again in the bottom of the ninth, facing Pedro Beato with two outs and the tying run at third base. After falling behind in the count 0-2, Tellez smacked a line single back up the middle to score Richard Urena and prevent the Blue Jays from suffering their sixth loss in seven spring games.

Rowdy is 3-for-10 in the spring, with a couple of doubles and three walks.

TOUGH DAYS AT THE OFFICE

Brett Oberholtzer and Conner Greene each had a day they’d like to forget out of the Blue Jays’ bullpen.

Oberholtzer, a former Phillie signed to a minor-league deal to provide left-handed depth and likely ticketed to start at Triple-A Buffalo, came on in the fifth inning with the Blue Jays ahead 1-0 and couldn’t record a single out.

The lefty gave up a leadoff single to Brock Stassi, and then issued back-to-back walks to load the bases. He couldn’t extricate himself from the jam, next coughing up a pair of two-run doubles – Jesmuel Valentin’s was lined to deep right-centre, Freddy Galvis’ smoked off the left-field wall.

Oberholtzer, who now sports an unflattering spring ERA of 31.50 (he also allowed a three-run homer to Starlin Castro in a two-inning start against the Yankees on February 26th), had to be bailed out by Danny Barnes, who got a couple of ground balls and a pop-up to end the inning with no further damage.

Greene, one of the Blue Jays’ top pitching prospects, got his ears pinned back in a second straight outing, as well. After allowing five runs on four hits (all singles) to the Phillies, with a walk and a hit batsman mixed in, in the Blue Jays’ spring home opener, Philadelphia got him again.

Entering in a 4-4 tie, and hitting 100 mph on the stadium radar gun, Greene gave up a fly ball to the wall in centre field to the first batter he faced, Cameron Perkins. Dalton Pompey ran it down for a long, loud out. The tall righty walked the next batter, and then gave up a double down the left-field line to Hector Gomez to put runners at second and third.

Up next was Tommy Joseph, who hit 21 homers in two-thirds of a season as a rookie last year. Joseph turned around a 99-mph heater, lining a two-run single to right-centre to give the Phillies the lead.

After allowing a stolen base, Greene escaped further damage by getting a groundout and striking out Jorge Alfaro.

The 21-year-old Greene came to spring training with a new body – he’s far more solidly built than the rake-thin kid we saw here a year ago. It may just be a matter of getting used to his new physicality, although his command issues are nothing new (he issued 71 walks in 146 1/3 minor-league innings in 2016). One hopes he won’t take two rough spring outings too badly.

EXECUTING THE FUNDAMENTALS

Every team spends a lot of time during spring training doing drill after drill, but it’s also a time to see how a team reacts to different situations in game action.

In pre-season games, you’ll often see a hit-and-run in an unusual spot, just to give players a chance to execute it. Same with stolen base attempts, sacrifice bunts, bunts for hits and different defensive alignments.

In the top of the fifth inning, with a runner and third and one out, the Blue Jays moved the infield in for Odubel Herrera in a 4-4 tie. It’s a spot where you might see the infield brought in during a real game, but not necessarily.

Given the opportunity to work on that defensive alignment, the Blue Jays played it perfectly. Herrera hit a one-hopper to first and Justin Smoak gathered it in and immediately threw a perfect strike home to catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who chased the runner (Kingery) back towards third, dishing off to third baseman Jon Berti for the textbook one-throw rundown, just like they drew it up.

The Blue Jays host a split-squad of New York Yankees on Friday afternoon. Francisco Liriano makes his first start of the spring for the Jays, with Luis Severino on the hill for the visitors. Kevin Barker will make his spring debut on the broadcast – he’ll join me on the web, beginning at 1:00pm Eastern. Listen here.

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