Permit me some takeaways from the biggest weekend of baseball this city has seen in some time:
GIVE HIM AN INCH …
(UPDATE at 2:19 p.m. ET: Blue Jays send Hutchison to Triple-A)
Truth be known, Drew Hutchison’s response to John Gibbons’ vote of confidence was weeks in the making. In the end, it might have come down to four inches – the distance he moved towards first base, away from the third base side of the pitching rubber.
“He was going through a little bit of a rough time, so we moved him over to the other side of the rubber,” Toronto Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker said Sunday. “We did some things with his hands over the rubber … it’s a timing thing … and moving him over a little bit seemed to help his angles. It gives him a little more action on his pitches and they seem to carry the plate a little longer.”
Hutchison’s home and road splits have been a storyline all season long. But even with his impressive numbers at home, Walker said that Hutchison “still wasn’t content with his stuff.” Neither were the Blue Jays. Standing on the third base side of the rubber makes it especially difficult for a right-hander to get extension down and away, and as Hutchison noted Sunday, whatever people think about his slider or any other pitch, everything for him begins with fastball command.
There are times when Hutchison noticeably checks the positioning of his feet on the rubber. “Muscle memory,” said Walker. “That will come.” Sunday might have been a turning point, because in the first inning he quick-pitched with Jacoby Ellsbury on first base, throwing off Ellsbury’s read and leading to him being caught stealing.
Monday is the first of three off-days the Blue Jays have in the next eight days, a schedule that is tailor-made for fiddling around with a rotation that is in flux because of wear and tear on Mark Buehrle, the desire to maximize David Price’s use against other playoff contenders, and the approaching return in some form of Marcus Stroman.
For now, Hutchison will join triple-A Buffalo to get in regular work during this eight-game road trip, because he is not on the schedule to pitch due to the off-days and the Blue Jays decided to bring up two position players (Aaron Loup was optioned Sunday). Hutchison gave the coaching staff something to think about all season long. At least this time, he’s done it in a more positive way.
Something to keep an eye on when the Blue Jays and Yankees meet again: everybody on both teams thinks everybody on the other team is stealing signs or tipping location, which can lead to some nastiness. As Yankees closer Andrew Miller said: “There’s a lot going on out there.”
The Yankees are one of the teams that uses multiple signs at the Rogers Centre even when there’s nobody on base, out of fear that somehow, someone somewhere in centre-field is stealing something. This all goes back, of course, to assertions from the Chicago White Sox contained in a 2011 ESPN The Magazine article, and it’s had a remarkable shelf-life considering the changeover in personnel the Blue Jays have undergone.
Seriously: given the departures of manager, coaches and players since then, it’s hard to imagine they’re all keeping the same secret. Yet know what? When John Farrell’s Boston Red Sox came here, they also used multiple signs despite the fact that Farrell managed here and third base coach Brian Butterfield spent a decade here. Paranoid, much?
So I asked Gibbons about it – and it turns out that he, too, wondered about the possibility when he returned as a bench coach with the Kansas City Royals after being fired as Blue Jays manager.
“Trey (Hillman, who was then the Royals manager) got a call from one of his friends who’d just been through here telling him about it,” said Gibbons. “I mean, I managed here so I figured I’d know. Anyhow, we sent Zack Greinke out and they hammered him all over the park and … you know, I kept looking at the guy who was running the centre-field camera and, I thought I saw him doing something …”
The Royals dispatched coaches out to centre field before the next game. They found nothing. Yet the urban myth lives on, and with meaningful September baseball on the horizon, expect it to be revisited.
QUIBBLES AND BITS
• The Blue Jays drew 140,111 for the three games over the weekend and have a season total of 1,909,361 compared to 1,846,153 after 62 home dates last season;
• There is still much conjecture about Aaron Sanchez’s approach to Carlos Beltran on Friday’s game-changing three-run home run, with calls for a slider or a spiked curve. Consider this, however: that homer was the first Beltran has hit on a fastball of at least 97 miles per hour since Aug. 9, 2008. So, maybe it wasn’t the pitch as much as it was location;
• I like aspects of Ben Revere’s game, mostly the way he covers ground in the field. But could he hit a ball hard at least once? I have no clue how he led the National League in hits last season with 184. He has a noticeable hitch in his swing and while slapping the ball onto the artificial turf here would have worked last year, this season’s quicksand carpet mitigates its effectiveness. The Blue Jays are a right-hand-heavy hitting lineup, yet oddly what they need on the squad right now is a right-handed hitting outfielder to use for Revere – especially with return dates against Andrew Miller coming up.
Let’s talk about Troy Tulowitzki. First, he was slumping before he came to the Blue Jays, in the middle of an 0-for-20 funk with the Colorado Rockies. Second, even though he says a lack of familiarity with American League starters is no big deal, he’s faced starters he hasn’t seen before – and two that he knows well, the Kansas City Royals’ Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez, owned him during their days in the National League (he managed two hits off Cueto, after going 1-for-11 lifetime, and is 2-for-14 lifetime against Volquez).
Plus, baseball knows how right-hand heavy the Blue Jays are, and Tulowitzki, whose splits this season are more unbalanced than previous seasons (.363 against left-handed pitching compared to .267 against righties) has seen 15 right-handed starters in his 16 starts. But, seriously … you want to worry about someone’s offence, worry about Russ Martin.
Tulowitzki and the Jays will face Phillies rookie right-hander Aaron Nola on Tuesday and rookie lefty Adam Morgan on Wednesday.