Pompey, Norris mishaps the latest woes for Blue Jays

Bryce Harper hit his first two home runs as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies in their victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.

CLEARWATER, Fla. – In the summer of 2016, Dalton Pompey suffered a concussion when he crashed into an outfield wall chasing down a fly ball while he was with triple-A Buffalo. The following spring, he was concussed again after slamming his face into the dirt while sliding into second base on a steal for Canada at the World Baseball Classic.

At this point, any potential head injury for the outfielder from Mississauga, Ont., is no joke.

Still, though, a mishap with bats at the top of his locker at Dunedin Stadium bumping him in the head sure came off as precisely that Thursday for the uber-talented 26-year-old, a last-minute scratch from the Blue Jays lineup that got crushed 13-6 by the Philadelphia Phillies.

The club said Pompey – facing designated-for-assignment limbo – was being evaluated. Given his history, caution is merited. But ever since he shot through three levels of the farm system to make an impressive debut in 2014, Pompey’s promising career has been a collection off odd and unlucky stops and starts. Compounding matters, last year the team suspended him after a dugout dispute with Bisons manager Bobby Meacham.

On At the Letters, Ben Nicholson-Smith and Arden Zwelling take fans inside the Blue Jays and around MLB with news, analysis and interviews.

As a result, a once heartening local-boy-done-good story is now wrapped in layer upon layer of frustration and disappointment. Even Pompey’s possible departure from the Blue Jays, one looming since that he’s out of options and there isn’t a real fit for him on the 25-man roster, is set to be complicated, especially if he ends up on the disabled list.

“We’ve got to wait for the concussion test,” said manager Charlie Montoyo, who struggled to picture how the accident might have happened. “That’s all I know. It happened right before we came (to Clearwater to play the Phillies).”

The Blue Jays, to their credit, have been patient and tried to give Pompey every opportunity to succeed, including this spring, when they’ve essentially showcased him to the other 29 clubs, hoping to wring some value out of him if he doesn’t break camp with them.

That’s why he’s survived on the 40-man roster to this point, and the crunch they potentially faced there may very well be eased with Ryan Tepera (elbow) and Devon Travis (knee) candidates for the 60-day injured list, and Rule 5 pick Elvis Luciano no certainty to keep his spot.

Pompey had a clean slate this spring with Montoyo’s arrival and he’s appeared in 14 spring games, batting .282/.282/.436 with a homer, three doubles and two stolen bases. To some degree, he made an impression.

“All I knew is that the guy has tools and from the beginning I said I’m going to play you and he’s played great,” said Montoyo. “That’s tough luck. I’m not going to go to the stuff that’s happened to him before. All I know is what I’ve (seen) of him and I’m going to say that’s tough luck because he was doing well, he was trying to make a club.”

Now, though, there’s another potential complication in the offing, another for a sadly long list.

NO NORRIS: Adding to the Blue Jays’ misadventures Thursday, which had already included Ryan Tepera booking an appointment with surgeon Dr. David Altchek, John Axford being shut down for at least four weeks and Kevin Pillar being scratched with neck stiffness, was Bud Norris not pitching his inning.

Charlie Montoyo said the decision to shut him down came when the right-hander “was getting loose a little bit, just playing catch and didn’t feel right. We said hold on, let’s find out before he throws.”

The Blue Jays said there’s no injury and it may have been nothing more than the normal pitching soreness pitchers experience, but given the other injuries and the fact that Norris had an opt-out that expired at midnight Thursday, there was certainly a New Orleans Is Sinking kind of feel to the day.

“That happens,” said Montoyo, “so we’ve got to re-adjust and see what’s going on with the injuries and stuff.”

KNOCKED AROUND: The Phillies and Blue Jays combined to hit 10 home runs on a windy afternoon at picturesque Spectrum Field, so the ball was definitely jumping. But Sam Gaviglio, with opportunity in the bullpen suddenly wide open, didn’t exactly cement his place on the club by allowing eight runs on seven hits, three of them homers, and a walk with five strikeouts in 3.1 innings of work.

The outing was a rare blemish on a pretty solid spring, and afterwards Charlie Montoyo said
“he’s still fighting for a job.” But he also added that “it wasn’t his best out there – he hung a couple of splits and they hit them pretty far.”

One of the homers he allowed was the first of two hit by Bryce Harper, a laser-beam to right field that sizzled on its way out. Gaviglio did bounce back to strike out Harper in the third, but then gave up a three-run homer to Ian Knapp in the fourth. Andrew McCutchen took him deep in the second.

“My changeup was starting to come around, and that’s a pitch I’ve been working on,” Gaviglio said of a clean three-up, three-down third. “That third inning when I faced him, that’s what we went to and I was having some success.”

Montoyo envisions Gaviglio as a long reliever capable of providing two or three inning outings, and given the current flux, it’s a role that’s needed. At one point, there was some thought to keeping him stretched out as a starter at triple-A Buffalo, but that may no longer be possible.

“Obviously you want to be in the big-leagues, but whatever decision they make, that’s their decision,” he said. “I’m going to focus on what I can control.”

SCRAMBLE MODE: The Blue Jays aren’t scrolling through their contacts looking for Mike Hauschild’s phone number just yet (we think), but with so many of their best laid plans in disarray, they may have shift their approach to Thomas Pannone and even Trent Thornton.

The two prospects were likely ticketed for triple-A Buffalo to continue their development, but given the growing difficulty they’re going to have finding 27 outs a night, starting them off in the bullpen may become a necessity, even if it isn’t ideal developmentally.

“We’ve got to see how (Bud) Norris is doing, we’ve got to see how the other guys are doing, how (Clay) Buchholz is doing, (David) Phelps,” said Charlie Montoyo. “But that could happen, (Pannone) could be in the bullpen just because of a need. We would love for him to start and get stretched out. But yes, he could be in the ‘pen if we have to.”

Pannone surrendered Bryce Harper’s second homer and Gift Ngoepe’s solo shot during three innings of work, striking out three and walking none. Thornton has an electric arm and could be a weapon out of the bullpen, but GM Ross Atkins said earlier this week that the Blue Jays wanted to “exhaust” his potential as a starter first.

Circumstances may change that.

“He’s still in the mix, too,” said Montoyo. “But that’s another guy we want to start. If you need it, you’re going to have to. But we want him to start, that’s for sure. That’s a good arm. We don’t want to put him in the bullpen just yet.”

SHORT HOPS: David Phelps, working his way back from Tommy John surgery, can’t be ready fast enough for the Blue Jays. Charlie Montoyo suggested that could come by mid-April/early May. … The Toronto Blue Jays and the Washington Nationals were named recipients of the 2019 Bobby Murcer Award, recognizing the team in each league whose players, managers and coaches pledge the most money to the Baseball Assistance Team. Known by the acronym B.A.T., the body helps members of the baseball community in need through financial grants, healthcare resources and rehabilitative counselling.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.