TORONTO – In the aftermath of a 2017 season undone partly by insufficient depth up the middle, the Blue Jays knew they had to be better prepared for days when Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis were unavailable. Really, they had to be prepared for weeks like that.
That need drove much of the Blue Jays’ off-season activity, and resulted in two additions, Aledmys Diaz in December followed by Yangervis Solarte in January. The pair arrived in Toronto with a mandate to do what Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney did not: provide capable offence up the middle at times when Tulowitzki and Travis were unavailable.
Tuesday was one of those games for the Blue Jays. Tulowitzki’s sidelined for at least two months after having bone spurs removed from both heels, and Travis was resting, as he typically will after playing twice in a row.
In place of the nominal starters, the Blue Jays used a configuration we could see often this summer; Diaz handled short with Solarte at second. For six and a half innings, the results, while hardly conclusive, were encouraging for a Blue Jays team on its way to a fourth win in a row. Those innings offered proof of concept — a concrete example of what Solarte and Diaz can do at the plate in a game that counts.
But in the bottom of the seventh inning, Diaz exited with back spasms, raising the question of middle infield depth again, at least for now. The Blue Jays will re-evaluate Diaz Wednesday in the hopes that he feels stronger.
“I feel good,” Diaz said after the game through interpreter Josue Peley. “It’s part of the game. I feel great mentally, so that’s what’s really important for me. Let’s hope that it’s not too bad.”
Both Solarte and Diaz impressed offensively Tuesday. Solarte doubled in his first trip to the plate and singled the following inning. Batting last in the Blue Jays’ lineup, Diaz did even more damage. He hit his second homer in as many days then followed that up with a double and single.
“The kid can hit,” manager John Gibbons said. “We saw it in spring training. He’s got a good, short stroke. He uses the whole field. He’s a guy you can put runners in motion with. He’s got a real good idea, and he’s been really solid out there defensively. Hopefully this isn’t a big deal.”
The good news for the Blue Jays: Diaz aggravated his back when he homered in the third inning and still went on to collect a double and a single. The bad news: the spasms worsened as the game progressed.
“It’s just a little back spasm,” Diaz said. “I got it after I hit the homer and it just got worse and worse as the game was going, so we’ll see how it feels.”
If Diaz needs more than a couple of days, Gift Ngoepe would be one option for regular time at shortstop, while minor-league signee Danny Espinosa represents an experienced bench option at triple-A Buffalo.
Ideally for the Blue Jays, though, Diaz would simply respond to rest and rejoin the lineup soon. In that scenario the Blue Jays will get more immediate chances to see if the offensive production on display against the White Sox will be sustainable.