Blue Jays’ win over Twins showcases both sides of team in transition

Teoscar Hernandez hit a three-run shot in the top half of the eighth as the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Minnesota Twins 5-3.

MINNEAPOLIS – With one out in the sixth inning Monday, the Blue Jays had a chance to rally. Teoscar Hernandez had just singled, and Brandon Drury had worked his way into a hitters’ count.

Well, he thought so anyways. In fact, the count was 2-2. Believing that he had just taken ball four, Drury discarded his bat and elbow guard while beginning his trot toward first base. With Drury approaching, Hernandez set off for second. But of course no walk had been issued, so when catcher Mitch Garver threw to first, the Twins had an easy out.

“They both have to be in the game,” manager Charlie Montoyo said afterwards. “The hitter and the guy at first. There’s no excuses for that. We’re not going to make excuses. That was bad base-running there.”

Technically it goes down as a caught stealing. Watching from the Blue Jays’ third base dugout, Montoyo looked like someone ready to describe it in far more colourful language.

“I want my guys to give their best and we can lose games, it’s all good,” he said. “But when you do stuff like that, I’ve got to let them know that’s not acceptable.”

Afterwards, Montoyo told both players he expects more awareness. Both were receptive to the constructive criticism.

“I wasn’t focused enough,” Hernandez acknowledged. “I wasn’t sure if it was a walk, but when I saw him running, I thought maybe I was confused. I think I was a little distracted, but I know that can’t happen. It was a bad moment. I wasn’t focused enough.”

Whether you blame Drury, Hernandez or both, that sequence shouldn’t happen on a major-league field. Though the Blue Jays eventually won 5-3 thanks in part to Hernandez’s bat, that exasperating sequence of events was emblematic of a team in transition.

To be fair, Hernandez later crushed a three-run homer to give the Blue Jays the lead. With two runners on and the Blue Jays trailing 3-2 in the eighth, Hernandez hit a no-doubter that gave the Blue Jays the lead. His first of the season meant a little more than most in the context of his earlier miscue.

“The last couple of games, I’ve been hitting the ball harder,” he said. “That’s a good sign. I’ve been seeing lots of pitches and taking some balls. That’s the key to doing damage.”

That late offence was welcome on a day the Blue Jays had trouble generating anything against starter Martin Perez. Their lone run against the left-hander came in the fourth inning when Alen Hanson drove Justin Smoak home with a sacrifice fly. Otherwise Toronto’s bats stayed quiet until Hernandez’s homer capped a four-run eighth.

The Blue Jays stayed in the game long enough to rally thanks to Matt Shoemaker. Making his fourth start of the season Shoemaker completed six innings of three-run ball while walking four and striking out four. He topped out at 93.2 m.p.h. with his fastball and used his trademark splitter to induce 11 of his 13 swinging misses.

“He kept us in the game,” Montoyo said. “He was outstanding again.”

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.

Perhaps more significantly, Shoemaker reached the 100-pitch plateau for the first time since June 3, 2017. That’s the latest sign that last year’s forearm issues really are in the past for the 32-year-old.

“I know 100 pitches is something that’s always talked about,” he said. “As players if you go out there and you have your stuff then pitch count might not necessarily matter, but overall it’s great to get to that point.”

Most of the damage against Shoemaker came on one swing from C.J. Cron, a second-deck shot in the fourth inning that came with two runners on. The Twins didn’t score again thanks to a strong effort from the Blue Jays’ bullpen that included a Joe Biagini save on a night that Ken Giles was battling illness.

Still, those sixth-inning mistakes loom large. Drury should have known the count. Hernandez shouldn’t have left first so hastily. Sometimes, rebuilding teams get in their own way, and the Blue Jays did too much of that Monday.

But along with those mental mistakes, you saw raw physical ability on display, too. The challenge, over the next couple of years, will be finding and developing the players who can combine game awareness with raw ability on a consistent basis.

“We’ve got good kids,” Montoyo said. “We’re not going to play like that. We’re going to play better. That was a bad couple of innings, bad base running but we bounced back and that was great to see.”

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