TORONTO – You can argue whether the Toronto Blue Jays were reaching when they went into spring training with Dalton Pompey and Daniel Norris ticketed for roles with the major league club. That’s on general manager Alex Anthopoulos for his off-season moves.
But the revisionist history from some quarters after this weekend’s demotion of Norris, Pompey and Miguel Castro to triple-A Buffalo is something again. Ask why they were in a position to make the team in Dunedin; but do not ask how they did it.
First, Norris was the best starting pitcher the Blue Jays had in spring training. Castro was unhittable – despite purposely being force-fed major league hitters. Yeah, it’s only spring but what were the Blue Jays supposed to do? Send them down, then try to explain it to the masses? Really?
Second: Pompey was very much one of the four top outfielders in spring training. Again – spring training, to be sure, but he won a competition made easier by Michael Saunders’s injury. What … you wanted Ezequiel Carrera up here instead?
Some of us looked at all the youth on this team and predicted it wouldn’t be a playoff club in a division that will likely send just one team. Nothing in the first month or these moves, then, surprises us: this is what happens when kids are given too much to do. Truth is, of all the things I’ve seen this month only two are shocking: Drew Hutchison’s stutter-step start and Devon Travis’s all-round game.
After posting the highest first-month slugging percentage by a rookie second baseman since 1914, Travis crushed his first career grand-slam on Sunday. In case you were wondering, it was the eighth grand-slam ever hit by a Blue Jays rookie, and thanks to my friend Steve Fellin and the great folks at our Stats and Information Department – who are pretty much the best – here’s the complete list, including the pitchers who gave it up:
• Rick Bosetti, May 7, 1978 (Enrique Romo, Seattle Mariners)
• Jesse Barfield, April 24, 1982 (Tom Burgmeier, Boston Red Sox)
• Junior Felix, June 2, 1989 (Bob Stanley, Red Sox, INSIDE THE PARK)
• Glenallen Hill, Sept. 1, 1989 (Mark Guthrie, Minnesota Twins)
• Gabe Gross, Sept. 5, 2004 (Justin Duchscherer, Oakland Athletics)
• J.P. Arencibia, June 6, 2011 (Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles)
• Brett Lawrie, Aug. 8, 2011 (Craig Breslow, Athletics)
• Devon Travis, May 3, 2015 (Trevor Bauer, Cleveland Indians)
MILLER TIME IN NEW YORK
And right on cue, here come the New York Yankees: the team most observers thought would be life and death to avoid last place in the American League East. They have a bullpen to make Blue Jays fans weep: Andrew Miller has 10 saves in as many opportunities, with 23 strikeouts and six walks (two of those in Sunday’s nail-biting win over the Boston Red Sox.) Not even Mariano Rivera had as many saves through 23 games as Miller did when he saved his 9th game on Friday.
Miller has multiple strikeouts in seven of his 12 outings and has yet to allow an earned run – while Dellin Betances, option No. 2, has 25 strikeouts and eight walks and is 3-0 in 13 appearances. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in 14.2 innings.
Miller signed a four-year, $36-million free-agent deal and those around the Blue Jays will tell you there was consideration given to pursuing him – and contact made – until Russell Martin was signed.
Hey, it’s not my money or my team but as I said since the end of last season: If it was me I’d have made money available or made a trade to free up money that would have allowed me to sign Miller as well as Martin. I’d rather be paying Miller $9 million this season than what I’m paying R.A. Dickey or Mark Buehrle, to be frank. I’d have allocated resources differently.
QUIBBLES AND BITS
• We can talk about a lot of things this month, but it’s best if we don’t go around expecting Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos to make a season-altering deal. Consider these names: Scott Podsednik, Nick Hundley, Koyie Hill and Reid Brignac. What do they have in common? Since 2009 they’ve been the biggest names traded in the month of May. In other words, all these Blue Jays issues will be solved or fail to be solved from within; nobody’s going to be interested in trading much until after the June draft.
• All season long I’ve been saying that Kyrie Irving’s ability to adapt to LeBron James’s presence was going to be the thing that determined how successful the Cleveland Cavaliers were this season. Monday night, the series we’ve all known was due – the Cavaliers against the Chicago Bulls – begins and Irving and James will be looking to build on their first-round success over the Boston Celtics, when they became the first Cavaliers duo to average at least 20 points in a series since Brad Daughtery (25.5) and Mark Price (21.3) in the first round of the 1992 playoffs, a win over the then-New Jersey Nets. Irving and James each averaged 20 points and five assists during the regular season, becoming the fifth duo in NBA history to accomplish that feat.
Bold prediction: with the Spurs out, the Cavaliers will win the NBA title if they get past the Bulls.
• These one-goal games are getting to be old hat for the New York Rangers: 14 of their last 16 playoff games have been one-goal decisions, including all seven during this post-season. Going back to Game 4 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings, the Rangers have been involved in nine consecutive one-goal decisions.
Do me a favour: If you watch the NFL or buy tickets or its products or are part of the large segment of our industry that grovels at its feet, please spare me the moral outrage about Floyd Mayweather, OK? You support men acting badly just as much as anybody who watched the Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight. We all have our own levels of comfort with the sausage that is professional sports. All we can do is try to pick our spots. That, and deal with the hypocrisy that comes with consuming pro sports.
Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m.-11 ET and Baseball Central from 11 a.m.-noon ET on Sportsnet 590 The FAN. He also appears frequently on Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown.