KANSAS CITY – At times you can start to suspect otherwise during a lost season, but there’s really no such thing as a meaningless major-league baseball game.
The stakes are simply too high for all involved. Not in the standings in this case, unless you count Kansas City’s race to the bottom for the first overall pick in 2019, but in smaller ways. It’s on that granular level that the Blue Jays’ 6-2 loss to the Royals offers any meaning.
First, the mistakes and there were plenty on a day that the teams waited through a two hour, 14 minute delay before first pitch. Perhaps mercifully, the announced crowd at Kauffman Stadium was just 14,894 and to suggest that a tenth of those fans were in their seats when Wily Peralta recorded the final out would be generous.
On defence, Teoscar Hernandez misplayed consecutive Royals hits in the fourth inning. While neither was ruled an error, his outfield routes remain problematic – a cause for concern considering that the Blue Jays already have a DH in Kendrys Morales.
“But he made a heck of a throw to second base,” manager John Gibbons countered, referencing the first of two strong throws Hernandez made from left field. “He’s working on it. He’s a work in progress out there. I don’t want him to get too frustrated, just keep working and don’t be afraid to make mistakes because that’s when you make them.”
On the bases, Aledmys Diaz ran into an out in the second inning when he appeared intent on drawing a throw that would allow Kevin Pillar to bolt home. He drew the throw all right, only to run right into the tag with no slide to end the inning.
Diaz got the start at third base, and the appearance could foreshadow more time at the hot corner. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (ankle) has resumed baserunning, sliding and hitting drills and his eventual return could push Diaz to third alongside Russell Martin. While the Blue Jays like Gurriel Jr. as a middle infielder, Diaz’s defensive skillset allows him to play second, third or short capably, according to Gibbons.
On the mound, Sam Gaviglio allowed five runs on eight hits in 4.1 innings to the team that ranks last in the majors in runs scored. He had fared well in his two previous starts, but his season ERA climbed to 5.13 Thursday.
“It was a tough night,” Gibbons said. “He’s been getting hit around a little bit lately. Part of that is a lot of pitches are up in the zone and (his) kind of style, you can’t do that. That was basically it.”
“I think I just got a little elevated,” added Gaviglio. “I just made a few mistakes and they took advantage of it.
Adding to the bizarre feel at the ballpark, Gaviglio earned a balk call when he tried to pick off a runner, only to have the ball slip out of his hand.
Reinforcements are coming to the rotation, as Aaron Sanchez completed 3.2 innings in Wednesday’s rehab outing. He threw just 35 of 74 pitches for strikes but was encouraged by how he felt physically, according to Gibbons.
“Apparently he feels fine. That’s the key,” Gibbons said. “He’s got to build up.”
The Blue Jays expect Sanchez to make another rehab start early next week, and remain hopeful that he’ll be able to re-join the rotation for most or all of September. By that point, the Blue Jays could have an opening in their rotation; contending teams have Marco Estrada on their radar, setting up the possibility of a trade.
On a more positive note, Danny Jansen continued to look the part of a major-league catcher. The 23-year-old collected an infield hit and a sac fly at the plate, and showed athleticism and awareness while retiring Alex Gordon on a tough dribbler in the sixth inning then promptly returning behind home plate to ensure Whit Merrifield didn’t think about scoring.
“Great play,” Gibbons said. “He moves really well. He’s doing a great job blocking balls. Yeah, he’s living a charmed life too now. He’s got a couple of little dribbler hits. That’s always a good thing. He’s handled himself like a champ.”
All told, the game ended after 1 a.m. ET, setting up a long night of travel for the Blue Jays before their series opener in New York Friday. In all likelihood, the Blue Jays will land in New York in time for morning rush hour. That’ll give them time for a quick nap at the team hotel before they try for better results against a better team.