Blue Jays win offers hints at Montoyo’s in-game managing style

Aaron Sanchez and four relievers combined to pitch Toronto's second straight shutout, leading the Blue Jays over the Detroit Tigers 3-0.

TORONTO – All night long the text messages poured in from friends, family and baseball people, each one congratulating Charlie Montoyo on his first win as a big-league manager.

By Saturday morning, Montoyo estimates he had already heard from three or four hundred people. Even after noon, as he sat down in his office for his daily media briefing, the messages kept trickling in. Regardless of how many more arrive, he’s determined to respond to each one.

“I have to answer,” Montoyo joked. “Otherwise people will go ‘oh he’s changed already.’ So I’m trying my best.”

We can safely assume that there will be far fewer congratulatory texts for career win No. 2. The milestone win happened Friday. Saturday will eventually go down as just another game.

But the Toronto Blue Jays’ 3-0 shutout of the Detroit Tigers was significant in another way. After months of talk, Montoyo is making calls on a big-league field for the first time. With each decision, a clearer picture of his managerial tendencies emerges.

When Aaron Sanchez struck out Nicholas Castellanos to finish the top of the fifth inning, Montoyo faced his first major decision of the day. Sanchez had completed five scoreless innings thanks to a hard-breaking curve and a fastball that touched 97 m.p.h. At the same time, this was his first big-league start since having his right index finger repaired last September, and he was already at 88 pitches.

How much more could the Blue Jays ask for? Should they send Sanchez out for the sixth with Miguel Cabrera looming as the leadoff man?

“I just wanted to get him one more hitter,” Montoyo said. “Their best hitter. He was doing well. That’s all I wanted.”

Once Sanchez arrived in the dugout, Montoyo informed him that Tim Mayza would be pitching at some point soon. With a run of switch-hitters and lefties approaching, Montoyo wanted a left-hander in the game. But the manager liked what he had seen from his starter so far. He asked if Sanchez had one more hitter in him.

“He said yes,” Montoyo said. “So we sent him back out.”

Two pitches later, Sanchez hit Cabrera. Mayza entered, and the starter’s day was done.

The Tigers ultimately stranded the runner, so this decision didn’t impact the outcome of the game, but it did suggest Montoyo’s willing to trust his eyes. With the bases empty and Mayza ready in the bullpen, the risk was minimal, but by letting Sanchez face Cabrera for a third time the Blue Jays put faith in a starting pitcher a little longer than a strictly numbers-based approach might dictate.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, we saw Montoyo show a willingness to go to his bench. At that point, Daniel Norris was on the mound and left-handed-hitting designated hitter Rowdy Tellez was due up, but Montoyo called on the right-handed-hitting Randal Grichuk to gain the platoon advantage. While the resulting fly-ball out didn’t do much, the move reinforces the idea that any player could be called on regardless of whether he starts.

“The start of the game is a day off,” Montoyo said. “After that you need to be ready.”

That’s nothing new for the Blue Jays, who would often maximize platoon advantages under John Gibbons, but what happened in the seventh inning was a rarity for recent Toronto teams. With Freddy Galvis on second base and the Blue Jays ahead 3-0, Richard Urena stepped up to the plate. Eager to add to the lead, Montoyo called for a bunt.

“I was hoping to get one more run and get him to third base with my leadoff guy coming up,” Montoyo said. “That’s why I called the bunt. I like bunting.”

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.

That’s a stark contrast to Gibbons, whose teams would typically eschew small ball and play for the big inning. In 2018, the Blue Jays set the MLB record for the fewest sacrifice bunts in a season: five.

“We have the sign,” Gibbons joked last year. “But nobody knows it.”

To Urena’s credit, he got the bunt down, advancing the runner to third. Outs by Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney stranded Galvis, but the Blue Jays’ bullpen held the lead as the club improved to 2-1. Along the way, Montoyo showed an openness to bunting depending on the situation.

“It depends where we are in the lineup,” Montoyo said. “Richie’s hitting ninth. We have the top of the lineup coming up, so get him over with the bunt. Guys don’t hit (runners) over anymore, so I’ll take the bat away from Richie and Richie’s a good bunter, too. He did the job.”

Realistically, those are just three of the dozens and dozens of decisions Montoyo makes on a given day – small pieces of a larger picture. Plus, there’s no guarantee he’ll do the same thing next time around. But now that the games finally count, we are finally getting a sense of how Montoyo’s philosophies play out in real time.

On Sunday, many more decisions inevitably await the manager. In the meantime, he has some text messages to answer.

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