DUNEDIN, Fla. – The Toronto Blue Jays got shut down by Vincent Velasquez and Joe Biagini allowed three inherited runners to score, leaving Aaron Sanchez’ final Grapefruit League ERA at 8.44 for the spring.
Here’s what stood out to me about the Jays’ Monday loss under the lights:
MORE TESTS PASSED – With a week to go until opening day, we’re looking for signs that once-injured Blue Jays are coming around, and there were more of those on Monday night.
The first play of the game was a ground ball up the middle by Cesar Hernandez. Devon Travis, playing in the field for only the second time, ranged far to his right to pick it, crossing in front of Troy Tulowitzki, then threw across his body on the run for the out. It was a sensational defensive play, as well as a chance to show that his once-wonky knee is feeling as good as he says it is.
Jose Bautista’s health isn’t an issue, but his arm has been. Since Bautista hurt himself trying to throw out Baltimore’s Delmon Young at first base two Aprils ago, we have only seen the once-feared cannon on a couple of occasions. This spring, though, Bautista says his arm is back, and he made a couple of throws that showed just that on Monday night.
In the first inning, right after the great play by Travis, Phils’ shortstop Freddy Galvis took Sanchez high off the wall in right field. Bautista played it perfectly, and fired a missile back to the infield that kept the speedy Galvis at first base.
He did it again in the fifth inning, when Cameron Rupp hit a line drive off the base of the wall in right. Bautista played the carom well and came up throwing, holding Rupp at first.
Both throws were crisp and accurate, had that old Bautista zip on them and made it from the outfield wall to second base on the fly.
TIMING COMING AROUND – Russell Martin has struggled at the plate since returning from the World Baseball Classic. He left for Miami to act as a coach for Team Canada, since he wasn’t allowed to play because of insurance issues, coming back right after Canada was eliminated on March 12.
Martin came into Monday night’s game with just one hit in twenty at-bats since checking back in to camp, and struck out in his first trip against Phillies’ flamethrower Velasquez.
Second time up, though, Martin timed Velasquez up and just missed his pitch, fouling a fastball straight back to the screen. It’s swings like that that show you the hitter was right there, not even a heartbeat off, and that timing is all but locked in.
Later in the at-bat, Martin belted his first home run of the spring, a shot over the fence just right of dead centre.
FINE BULLPEN WORK – The Blue Jays used five members of the big-league ‘pen in the loss to the Phillies, and they combined to allow zero earned runs over 4 2/3 innings of work.
Now, Biagini did give up those three inherited runners – he came in with the bases loaded and after striking out Hernandez, gave up a ground ball single to Galvis that cleared the bases, with the third run scoring when Galvis got himself in a rundown and stayed in it long enough to allow Velasquez to check in.
Roberto Osuna followed, in his first game action for the Jays since leaving for the World Baseball Classic on March 6. The 22 year-old closer got two quick ground ball outs, then another grounder, this off the bat of Howie Kendrick. Josh Donaldson had it go off his glove for an error to keep the inning alive and the next batter, Tommy Joseph, mashed an Osuna offering into the trees in left field – part of a four-hit day.
Jason Grilli worked around a leadoff single in the sixth, notching a pair of strikeouts, Joe Smith gave up a couple of hits in a scoreless seventh and J.P. Howell allowed a walk in a hitless eighth.
Grilli, Howell and Smith were all working on a second straight day.
The Blue Jays play their final road game of the Grapefruit League season on Tuesday night, a rematch with the Phillies that will have Marco Estrada getting one last tune-up in before his opening day assignment. Aaron Nola answers for the Phils, who are 3-2-1 against the Jays so far this spring. It’s another night game, and available online only. Joe Siddall and I will have the call for you starting at 6:30 p.m. Eastern, you can listen here.