ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Their offence suddenly cooled in steamy and stormy St. Pete’s, perhaps the return of Jose Reyes on Wednesday afternoon is just what the Toronto Blue Jays need to re-ignite.
The all-star shortstop sat on the bench Tuesday night as his teammates lost for a second straight night after an 11-game win streak, falling 5-1 to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Munenori Kawasaki was optioned to triple-A Buffalo and Ramon Ortiz moved to the 60-day disabled list after the game to clear space for Reyes, who has been out since spraining his left ankle April 12 and whose speed, penchant for getting on-base and energy will be welcomed back into the leadoff spot.
“When (the injury) happened to me, I felt bad, at that time we didn’t play too good,” Reyes said. “Now it’s different, that’s why I want to be part of this, I feel good, I’m very happy to be back again and play with my boys.”
Though his timing is still coming, he feels ready to jump right in.
“All four games I played in triple-A I felt very comfortable,” said Reyes. “Doing what I do, getting on base, running a lot, stealing bases, playing defence was good. I did everything that I will do here when I start playing the games here (Wednesday).”
All of that has been lacking in the two losses, and while a very solid Jeremy Hellickson was responsible for that Monday, a wild Matt Moore was much more gettable on Tuesday and the Blue Jays’ inability to make him pay for his season-high matching six walks cost them.
“They use a lot of off-speed stuff and they all have real good changeups that they throw at any time, it’s really a polished group,” said manager John Gibbons. “We got some guys on base, we worked some walks, we just couldn’t get that big, big hit.
“But on the nights we pitch really well, we do the same thing. It’s just the way baseball goes.”
TURN OF FATE: Signs of how things suddenly aren’t falling the Blue Jays’ way were all over Tuesday’s loss to the Rays.
A bases-loaded, one-out opportunity in the third for the Blue Jays was one example, as rather than hammering Moore, they let him off the hook on strikeouts by Rajai Davis and Colby Rasmus, two of the lefty’s 11 over six frames.
In the third, Mark Buehrle essentially recorded five outs in the inning, as second baseman Mark DeRosa bobbled the relay on a sure inning-ending double play ball and on a subsequent Yunel Escobar single, Wil Myers was called safe at third base by umpire Paul Emmel even though it looked like Jose Bautista’s throw from right field got him. James Loney popped out to end the inning as Buehrle escaped the threat.
The left-hander wasn’t as fortunate in the fourth, as with the bases loaded, Rays left-fielder Sean Rodriguez hit a fly ball to right that Bautista caught and fired home to try and get the tagging Jose Molina. While the throw beat the lead-footed catcher, Molina somehow avoided J.P. Arencibia’s tag to earn the safe call, and rather than a game-saving defensive play, the two other runners advanced and scored on a Ben Zobrist sac fly and Wil Myers base hit.
“When it first happened, knowing J.P. didn’t really argue with it, I figured he kind of missed him or knew he didn’t get him out,” said Buehrle.
Said Molina: “That was luck, a lot of luck.”
In the top of the seventh, DeRosa was robbed of extra bases and perhaps an RBI when his liner sailed right into Evan Longoria’s glove at third base. The same thing happened in the top of the eighth.
In the bottom of the seventh, Escobar ended Brett Cecil’s streak of 40 straight at-bats without a hit on a single up the middle, and after James Loney followed with another single and the two proceeded to double steal, Kelly Johnson ended the lefty’s scoreless innings run at 19.2 innings.
Put all together, the Blue Jays aren’t quite as crisp as they’ve been and breaks have stopped going their way, something not wholly unsurprising after 11 wins in a row.
With Jose Reyes back in the lineup Wednesday afternoon in the series finale, they’ll look to the all-star shortstop to provide and turn the page on the demotion of Munenori Kawasaki.
“That part sucks,” said Buehrle. “But on the other side we’re getting Reyes back, we know what he brings to the table and hopefully he can kind of give a spark to this team.”
WHERE THINGS STAND: The Blue Jays (38-38) fell back to .500 before a Tropicana Field crowd of 12,041 and their streak of winless series in Tampa Bay is now up to 19. Their last series win here came in April 2007, although they did split a four-game series in May, and are now 14-43 when visiting the Rays (41-37) since then.
R.A. Dickey (6-8, 5.15) tries to prevent the sweep against Roberto Hernandez (4-8, 5.14) in the series finale.
WALK, WALK, WALK: While Rays starter Matt Moore issued six free passes, Mark Buehrle handed out four in his five innings of work, along with eight hits leading to four earned runs on his account.
The veteran lefty’s outing would have looked much different had the play on Jose Molina at the plate led to a second out in the three-run fourth, but the leadoff walk that put him aboard in the first place is on him. A hit by pitch on Kelly Johnson right after hurt, too.
Regardless, the four earned runs were the most against Buehrle since May 17 at New York, when the Yankees got him for five runs.
“I felt great, probably felt too good, up in the zone a lot, fell behind guys, wasn’t getting strike one, for me, you’re going to be in trouble all night long,” said Buehrle. “Made a few pitches when I needed to, they put the ball in play, that’s why this game is frustrating, you’re missing your spots and you make a pitch and they put the ball in play, whether it’s a broken-bat base hit or finding a hole.
“It was just frustrating all around.”
OFFENCE ICED: Through the first two games of the series versus the Rays, the Blue Jays have managed just 10 hits. For perspective, that’s three less than the number of runs they put up against the Baltimore Orioles in Sunday’s 13-5 win.
Throw in the fact they have just one extra-base hit – a Colby Rasmus double in the eighth inning Tuesday – and you get a sense of how effectively the Rays have pitched them.