ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Back at Tropicana Field for the first time since leaving the Tampa Bay Rays to manage the Toronto Blue Jays over the winter, Charlie Montoyo was musing about the recent play of his club before Monday’s Memorial Day matinee, looking for the positive. The kids have been fun, he said. The team is often in games, he pointed out. At times they’ve been felled by the type of mistakes young players make, he added.
Of course, bigger things have gone wrong for his team, as well, the latest of which was Aaron Sanchez leaving an 8-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays after three innings of work with a right middle fingernail avulsion.
For those of you that didn’t go to medical school, that’s when the nail is partly or fully torn from the skin. In this case, when he released a 93.2 m.p.h. sinker to Willy Adames that induced an inning-ending comebacker to the mound in the first, it pulled the nail up out of the nail bed. Turns out there was a blood blister underneath the nail. It’s the third time this year he’s experienced some sort of issue with his middle finger, having earlier suffered a cracked nail in Minnesota and a blister in Chicago.
Troubling stuff for a team that’s already used 11 different starting pitchers this season, and a roster move to add more pitching is surely coming, even though Sanchez vowed to not end up on the injured list.
"No. I won’t be there," he said. "It’s been three different things so it’s hard to say (if one specific pitch is causing the trouble). The nail split probably spinning the ball. The blister, that comes with anything that comes off that area. Today, probably it was just a fastball. It happened on a fastball so that’s why I said fastball. Who knows? Maybe (the finger) is just so pissed off now that it needs some time. I don’t know."
Jacob Waguespack, the right-hander acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies for Aaron Loup at the trade deadline last summer, made his big-league debut when he took over from Sanchez and struck out seven over four innings, leaving the game with minor shoulder tightness. He was examined post-game, and the initial word was no biggie.
"It’s all muscular," said Waguespack. "It’s something I get sore with after my starts. It’s fine.”
As for the debut?
"It was crazy man," he said. "The lights are a little brighter in these stadiums, the fans are cheering a little louder but at the end of the day it’s still the same game. … I was just trying to be aggressive, that was the main goal."
He also had to overcome a Little League homer by Ji-Man Choi in the fourth that was a product of those young-player mistakes Montoyo referred to.
Those came with two out and a run already in during that fateful fourth, as the speedy Tommy Pham turned for home on a Choi single to left. Rather than throwing to second to keep the hitter at first, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., threw to the plate in a fruitless attempt to prevent a run. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., should have cut the ball off but didn’t, which allowed Choi to turn for second as Pham came in. Catcher Luke Maile then decided to try for the out at second, but his throw sailed into right-centre field, allowing Choi to chug around and make it a 4-0 game.
"The guy was going to score easy, but (Gurriel) made the right throw, the third baseman could have caught it to get the guy at second," said Montoyo. "For a young guy (like Gurriel), that was a learning lesson, but it’s not the worst I’ve seen, like, OK, he hit the cut-off man, but we didn’t cut it."
The three-spot in the fourth put a game in which the Blue Jays didn’t manage their first hit until the first pitch of the sixth – a single by Maile off two-time Toronto waiver claim Oliver Drake after five hitless innings by Yonny Chirinos – out of reach.
But in these growing-pain days, the three clean innings Waguespack delivered afterwards marked a bright spot, as did the first big-league home run for Jonathan Davis, a two-run shot in the seventh.
"To get a big hit like that, it means a lot to me," said Davis, who was cheered in the dugout by many of the minor-league teammates he climbed the ladder with. "For them to support me, it means even more."
Still, the latest finger troubles for Sanchez come with the Blue Jays already scrounging through every nook and cranny to find some reliable innings, the offence continually struggling to score and a 48-hour virus that causes fever and vomiting tearing through the clubhouse amid a stretch of 16 consecutive games.
Cavan Biggio and Justin Smoak were among its latest victims, the former relegated to DH duties while the latter was given a rest day. To try and prevent further transmission, the Blue Jays disinfected their weight room and batting cage at home and left antimicrobial mists in clubhouse overnight to try and kill off anything that might be floating in the air. The training staff has also given players Vitamin C to try and boost immune systems, but the lack of recent off-days has complicated matters because everyone is around each other so much.
"Somebody gets it, gives it to another guy and so on," said Montoyo. "I think everyone has gotten it by now."
Asked what he’s been doing, Montoyo smiled and replied: "Can you play or not? Next. That’s all I can do."
The same goes for a lot of things right now around the Blue Jays, who have no alternative but to push through illness, push through injury and push through the ups and downs of young players acclimating to the majors.