TORONTO — Validation for the Toronto Raptors’ controversial management of Kawhi Leonard’s workload during the regular season has come during these NBA playoffs, scheduled rest days then giving way to an average of 38.7 spectacular minutes per post-season game now.
Sure, those nights off in the fall and winter were frustrating to fans but, really, even without the gift of hindsight, easing the non-essential burden on a player who missed all but nine games the previous season with a quad injury makes all kinds of sense. You don’t ask someone coming off a sprint to suddenly run a marathon.
The question, then, with the Toronto Blue Jays inviting social-media venom from parts of their fanbase by sitting out Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for Monday’s Victoria Day matinee against the Boston Red Sox, is what exactly are they trying to protect the 20-year-old phenom from?
Scheduled or not, why on Earth would they rest him amid his first hot stretch since getting promoted to the big-leagues, a 7-for-21, four-homer, nine-RBI, three-walk run that earned him American League player of the week honours?
On a holiday Monday, with a crowd of 26,794 on hand, their largest since 28,688 took in Guerrero’s April 26 debut, to boot?
Even after Eric Sogard was forced from the starting lineup by a sprained left thumb, with lefty David Price on the mound?
“We’ve got a set deal, he needs to get a day off,” Charlie Montoyo said before a 12-2 pummelling from the Red Sox. “Everybody is going to get a day off, anyway, 16 straight days, so today was Vlad’s.”
That’s weak and, despite his protestations that it was a collective coaching decision, it’s not on Montoyo, as there’s no way a baseball man with his experience and feel would make this call. The Blue Jays have delved into sports science as aggressively as anyone in baseball since Mark Shapiro took over as president and CEO after the 2015 season, and sitting Guerrero because it’s his day sounds far more like a high-performance department thing.
Unlike Leonard, Guerrero isn’t coming off a major injury, although his spring was truncated by an oblique strain. His initial progression was deliberate as a result of that. At this point though, the he’s-still-in-spring-training argument doesn’t really hold any water. The dude is only 20 and has been training a long time for this marathon, even if he was in on the team’s message post-game.
“I think so, especially because I just got hurt in spring training. So we’re just being careful with that,” Guerrero, in comments interpreted by Hector Lebron, replied when asked if scheduled days off were necessary.
“We have a plan for me to be healthy,” he added later, “and we’re just going to continue with that.”
Now, an important caveat is that teams have vastly more information about a player’s health than the general public does, so perhaps there’s a better reason than it’s his turn for why Guerrero sat Monday.
But in the absence of a more reasoned explanation, fans who spent money on tickets have reason to be angry at a front office seemingly trying to ensconce one of the team’s few attractions in bubble wrap.
And the players busting their butts have a right to wonder why the best lineup isn’t being put out on a daily basis, especially while Montoyo is already saddled with papering over a shameful shortage of starting pitching.
Edwin Jackson made his second start Monday since his emergency acquisition from Oakland and allowed six runs, five earned, in five innings of work. But at least he ate innings and, given the state of things, there’s real value in that.
“It’s a matter of two pitches, I feel like if I make two pitches, this game could be a whole lot different,” said Jackson. “Once things get out of hand from a starter’s standpoint, you just want to continue to finish strong.”
Amid the rotation tumult of the past month, one of the main challenges for Montoyo has been “making sure we have pitching for the next day. Every game, whoever I use, I’ve got to make sure I’ve got enough for the next day, so it’s like that almost every day.”
The five from Jackson ahead of a Marcus Stroman outing Tuesday gives Montoyo an opportunity to breathe, although things are uncertain beyond that. Aaron Sanchez, who left his outing Friday in Chicago due to a blister, is as of now on track to start Wednesday, while Thursday could be Clayton Richard, who threw a side session in Toronto, or Ryan Feierabend.
Still, the pitching churn cost the Blue Jays reliever Javy Guerra, who was designated for assignment Saturday after pitching three innings Friday and claimed on waivers Monday by the Washington Nationals. Richard’s looming return could mean risking Feierabend on waivers to make room, as the lefty knuckleballer is also out of options.
By no means are they all-stars, but they offer innings to a team constantly scrambling for pitching.
“It’s a juggling act,” said Montoyo.
It certainly is, rebuilding is messy and roster machinations with disposable players are an ugly part of it. So too is improvising on the fly. There isn’t going to be much happiness for fans, although better court awareness from the club can sometimes help alleviate that.
Guerrero is one of the main reasons to watch the Blue Jays right now, had started to look like the player he’s projected to be, and earned himself AL player of the week honours. A big crowd was coming out at the end of the long weekend. Sitting him just because the team’s rest schedule said so made him the story of the day for all the wrong reasons.