OAKLAND – By now, Charlie Montoyo’s used to it. Ever since the Blue Jays named him manager he has answered a steady stream of questions about a player who has yet to play a single game in the major-leagues.
These days, Montoyo’s daily media briefings always include plenty of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. talk. And really, how could it be any other way? Guerrero Jr.’s crushing triple-A pitching. His once-strained oblique has had time to heal. And the service time games that slowed his arrival to the majors are finally over.
It’s inevitable. Wherever Montoyo goes, questions about baseball’s top prospect follow, and Friday’s pre-game media session was no exception. A few hours before Marcus Stroman and the Blue Jays beat the Athletics 5-1, Montoyo fielded another round of Vlad Jr. questions in his office at the Oakland Coliseum.
“Can I ask you about––”
“I swear to god,” Montoyo interrupted with a smile. “I don’t know when he’s coming.”
At this point the promotion could happen at any time, but by all indications there are no concrete plans to call up Guerrero on a specific day. Ideally, the Blue Jays would like to see Guerrero Jr.’s oblique respond to the test of playing three consecutive games–something he hasn’t yet done this season. Either way, a promotion seems likely at some point during the club’s upcoming homestand.
“I really don’t know,” Montoyo said. “I’m not lying.”
So it was without Guerrero Jr. that the Blue Jays took the field in Oakland, but their current third baseman had his best offensive game of the year, their centre fielder broke out of a painfully long slump and their ace starter finally got some run support.
Marcus Stroman was at his best Friday, altering his delivery regularly and mixing in all manner of cutters and breaking balls to keep Oakland’s hitters off-balance. After allowing one run in the first, Stroman never faced more than four batters in an inning. All told he allowed just one run while walking two and striking out six.
“There was no hard contact. He dealt the whole way,” Montoyo said. “It almost felt like a no-hitter.”
“I know where I’m at and I know what type of pitcher I can be in this game,” Stroman added. “It’s just a matter of going out there and doing it.”
In the third inning, Stroman’s varied deliveries appeared to unnerve A’s shortstop Marcus Semien, who said something to Stroman after he double-pumped his leg on one offering then quick-pitched on the next.
“He yelled out to me ‘just wait until I’m ready,’ but Laz (Diaz, the umpire) had put the ball in play,” Stroman said. “As far as I’m concerned he’s ready.”
Otherwise, there were few blips for Stroman, who lowers his ERA to 1.76 while completing eight innings for the first time since August 11, 2017. A bid for his fourth career complete game ended when Kendrys Morales doubled over Socrates Brito’s head to begin the ninth inning.
“Six is the minimum that you want to go,” Stroman said. “If I don’t go at least six innings, I don’t consider that a good start for myself. Going deep into games and being able to give that bullpen a break, makes them fresher when they come in later on in games. I want to be the guy to take the ball and go seven, eight, nine innings every time.”
At the plate, the Blue Jays provided plenty of room for error thanks in part to Brandon Drury’s first home run of the season. The power display was a welcome counterpoint to the 27 strikeouts Drury already has this year.
“He’s going to get hot,” Montoyo said. “That was great to see. Hopefully that’s going to get Brandon going.”
“I’ve been feeling a little more comfortable in there the last couple days, so hopefully I can keep that going,” Drury added.
Still, Drury’s scuffles must have seemed like nothing to Brito, who arrived in Oakland with zero hits in 21 at-bats to start the year. A second-inning single gave Brito a batting average and the Blue Jays their first run of the game. That started a four-run rally that gave Stroman more than enough support.
Perhaps by Stroman’s next start, Guerrero Jr. will have joined the Blue Jays, too. This much is inevitable, though: the questions will keep coming for Vlad Jr.’s future manager.
“Every day,” Montoyo said. “That’s fine, he’s the number one prospect in baseball. I get it. It’ll be fun when he gets here.”