Everything clicks as Blue Jays show off lineup depth

Troy Tulowitzki hit a grand slam as the Blue Jays trounced the Reds 17-2 for their biggest victory of the season so far.

TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays’ lineup hasn’t looked this deep in a while.

Their No. 5 hitter, Justin Smoak, homered and drove in four Monday. Batting sixth, Russell Martin homered, too. Troy Tulowitzki hit a grand slam from the seventh spot. No. 8 hitter Devon Travis extended his hit streak to 13 with a four-hit game. And the last man in Toronto’s lineup, Ezequiel Carrera, reached base five times.

These outbursts have happened before—this team scored nine runs with Darrell Ceciliani batting cleanup 11 days ago—but the Blue Jays haven’t had anything resembling true lineup depth since the early days of the season.

On Friday that changed, with the return of Josh Donaldson and Tulowitzki. Four days later, everything clicked for the Blue Jays, who scored 17 runs on 23 hits.

“I’m not surprised,” starter Marcus Stroman said. “One through nine we’re extremely strong.”

“It just deepens our lineup,” Smoak said of Donaldson and Tulowitzki. “Where we’ve gone the last couple of years is one through nine we can hit it out of the ballpark, hit a three-run homer. With those guys back in there, it helps us out that much more.”

By the time the Blue Jays started replacing regulars with bench players, everyone in the starting lineup had scored at least once. Seven Blue Jays had multi-hit games as they combined for the third-highest hit total in franchise history. The resulting 17-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds gives the Blue Jays a 24-27 record.

“It’s great,” said Smoak. “We definitely want more of those.”

“It’s pretty cool,” added Tulowitzki, “But it’s even better just to get another win.”

Tulowitzki played in just five rehab games before returning to the Blue Jays’ lineup, but his timing appeared to be returning on a day he hit a grand slam and a single.

“I’m not really worried about that,” he said. “I just go out there every day and try to help this team win games. I keep on getting asked that question and I keep on answering the same thing. It’s not about me. I’ll be out there, I’ll grind my way through it. It’s about wins and losses.”

Smoak now leads all MLB switch-hitters with 12 home runs and has a season batting line of .288/.354/.564. Considering that he was often dismissed as a bench piece entering the season, those numbers stand out even more. Still, to highlight any one hitter would be missing the point on a night so many contributed.

“Everything came together. Those games are rare,” manager John Gibbons said. “It was one of those nights where everybody was doing something good.”

To be fair, the Blue Jays had plenty of help Monday. Starter Lisalverto Bonilla pitched poorly, and each of the two relievers who followed allowed 10 hits. Making matters worse, the Reds helped the Blue Jays along with a balk and an interference call.

It wasn’t all about the bats for the Blue Jays, either. Stroman provided six strong innings against a respectable Reds offence, allowing two runs on five hits while striking out five. The right-hander threw 97 pitches, mostly two-seam fastballs, while generating 12 swinging strikes and a steady supply of ground balls.

Stroman had a little help, too. By any reasonable standard, Scott Schebler earned an extra-base hit when he sent a fastball 400 feet to straight-away centre field in the second inning. But Kevin Pillar raced back toward the wall, reached up as he reached the warning track and back-handed the ball mere instants before crashing face-on into the centre-field wall.

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With J.A. Happ set to return from the disabled list Tuesday and Francisco Liriano on track to pitch against the New York Yankees this weekend, there’s reason to believe the pitching staff will soon be healthier, too.

That means more roster moves are coming, and in that context Dominic Leone’s two innings of scoreless relief are worth noting. Leone appears to be a demotion candidate, largely because he has options remaining and can therefore be sent to the minors freely. J.P. Howell, another pitcher who’s now low in the reliever hierarchy, worked around a Schebler single to close the game out.

By that point, though, the Blue Jays’ much-improved lineup had put the game far out of reach.

“You’re starting to see how talented and how capable we are,” Stroman said. “I’m excited for this next stretch here, and we’re not worried by any means. We’re in a great place.”

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