Offensive struggles return for Blue Jays in loss to Twins

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Toronto Blue Jays' Justin Smoak hits an RBI single off against the Minnesota Twins pitcher Jake Odorizzi in the first inning of a baseball game. (Jim Mone/AP)

MINNEAPOLIS – Late offensive outbursts on Monday and Tuesday offered a little hope that the Toronto Blue Jays might be breaking out from their early-season slump.

They scored five on Monday and six on Tuesday, winning both games. Along the way, team decision makers still saw signs of progress.

“These guys have had success in the past, they’re good hitters for the most part,” assistant GM Joe Sheehan said before the game. “It’s been encouraging the last few games to see it work through and score some runs.”

But when the Blue Jays took the field after an hour-long rain delay Wednesday, their offensive struggles returned. They scored in the first when Justin Smoak drove in Freddy Galvis with a bloop single, but failed to send more than four batters to the plate in any subsequent inning. After the 4-1 loss, the Blue Jays are averaging just 3.6 runs per game on the season.

“We just had nothing going,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “It was just a dead night.”

Of course evaluating an offence on runs scored alone seems a little antiquated with so much advanced data available, but over a full season the best lineups score the most runs.

Still, it’s worth noting that Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez and Luke Maile all hit balls that left the bat traveling at least 100 m.p.h. Wednesday. Connect on enough of those, and the results will follow.

That’s certainly been the case for Hernandez, who has been making lots of hard contact ever since a baserunning blunder Monday cost the Blue Jays.

“We’ve seen young players struggle with something and then you don’t know how it’s going to go,” Sheehan said. “To come back and hit the homer and then (Tuesday) have a great game, it’s always encouraging to see him bounce back like that.”

Others are still awaiting an offensive breakout. After a one for four night at the plate, Brandon Drury has a .401 OPS on the year. The offensive potential that intrigued the Blue Jays when they acquired him in last summer’s J.A. Happ trade has yet to materialize in results at the plate. Even so, the Blue Jays believe Drury’s work behind the scenes will eventually pay off.

“He’s had success in the past,” Sheehan said. “Some of the underlying metrics were encouraging at the start of the year. He has struggled, for sure, (but) I think the skills are still there. Hopefully he’ll work himself out of it.”

As for the pitching, starter Trent Thornton allowed four runs in 4.2 innings while walking three and striking out three. That’s a second consecutive tough start for Thornton after two tremendous outings to begin the year.

“To start off the game, I definitely didn’t have my best stuff and wasn’t locating as well as I should have been,” Thornton said. “My last two innings I felt finally it was clicking for me. I was making good pitches and working ahead in the count, but other than that I need to get off to a better start.”

The short outing from Thornton led to an opportunity for Rule 5 pick Elvis Luciano, who recovered from a wild pitch and Marwin Gonzalez single to retire the next four hitters he faced, including two strikeouts.

“I don’t know if he doesn’t warm up right or he’s just a kid,” Montoyo said. “He looked wild at the beginning but then he came back and did a great job.”

Javy Guerra then provided two clean innings of relief to hold the Twins to four runs. Normally, that would be enough to keep the Blue Jays in the game, but not on a night their offence faltered.

Eventually, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will give this lineup an infusion of talent to support this surprisingly effective pitching staff. He homered again at triple-A Wednesday and could realistically be in the majors by next week.

Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, it’ll take more than one player to solve these offensive struggles.

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