Team meeting helps Blue Jays re-establish style of play

Justin Smoak launched a home run but the Toronto Blue Jays fell to the Oakland Athletics 6-2.

OAKLAND, Calif. – Even in the absence of a pennant race and championship dreams, in the absence of meaningful games amid the dog days of summer, Troy Tulowitzki firmly believes there’s still meaning in the final two months of this lost season for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Playing the game hard consistently is important, regardless of the circumstances, but especially so when there’s an example to be set and norms to be established now that the non-waiver trade deadline has passed and the roster transition is underway.

The Blue Jays were certainly better in that regard, if not in the final result, during Tuesday’s 6-2 loss to the surging Oakland Athletics, their first outing after a nearly 40-minute players-only meeting followed a troubling 10-1 thumping Monday night.

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Tulowitzki, still working his way back from surgery on both heels, was visiting the team at the stadium he frequented as a kid while. He and other veterans were concerned enough by what they saw in that outing that they felt compelled to speak their minds.

“I just don’t want them to go through the motions,” Tulowitzki said in an interview. “This is an organization that prides itself on doing things the right way. It’s a country that has backed us since I’ve been here and they care about the team. If you’re going to go out there and not give your best, I have a problem with that.

“There are a lot of people that come to watch a game that they don’t know the standings, they don’t look at them, but they want to see these guys play the game the way it should be played, the fathers that sit there watching the game with their sons. Those little things mean a lot to me. I think if I can just share that, and say hey, when you step out on this field – and I’m the perfect example, I wish I could be out there, man, I’d give anything to go out there on this big-league field tonight and play and right now I can’t – when you step out on that field it’s special.

“Don’t sit here and say, ‘Oh, we have two months left, it doesn’t look like we’re playing good baseball.’ No. Have some pride. Go out there and do things the right way. I’ve always been like that, I’ve been taught the right way by the guys that taught me how to play the game, and it’s my job now being a veteran on the team to pass that knowledge along.”

To that end, the Blue Jays certainly played better Tuesday than the night prior, even as they were once again outclassed by an Athletics team trying to reel in the Seattle Mariners for the American League’s second wild-card spot.

Sam Gaviglio failed to make it through three innings – allowing five runs on eight hits, one of them a spectacular 421-foot Khris Davis homer, and two walks – and a pitching staff being held together by chicken wire and duct tape once again had to grind through eight innings.

Brandon Cumpton, the right-hander signed out of independent ball July 5 and recalled from triple-A Buffalo before the game, was one of four relievers to mop up. He logged 1.2 innings, ruling him out as the starter for Thursday’s series opener in Seattle, as the Blue Jays had hoped.

“I’ve got no idea what’s going to happen Thursday,” said Gibbons, who added that Danny Barnes’s expected activation for Wednesday’s finale in Oakland would bolster the bullpen.

Still, they competed, as did a lineup that will be without Lourdes Gurriel Jr., its hottest hitter, for two to six weeks due to left high ankle and knee sprains. Randal Grichuk doubled and scored a Kendrys Morales single in the first. Justin Smoak pounded his 17th homer in the fourth. They made Trevor Cahill and Co. work for their outs.

While certainly no cause for celebration, re-establishing a style of play and a level of compete is one potential takeaway for the Blue Jays in the time that’s left, beyond potential future core pieces like Gurriel, Ryan Borucki, Brandon Drury, Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez and Dwight Smith Jr. gathering more playing experience.

“The message (in the meeting) was fairly simple, making the best of the opportunity we have left,” said Kevin Pillar, making progress in his recovery from a sternoclavicular joint sprain. “We had some veteran guys talk about this time of the year, and (the trade deadline) does become a distraction when you’re quote-unquote a seller and you don’t know if you’re going to be in this uniform tomorrow, you don’t know where you’re going to go and there are a lot of rumours out there. It’s just a matter of staying together whether you’re 40 games under .500 or 40 games above .500, and understanding how blessed we are to be major-league baseball players and make the best of the opportunity.”

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The Blue Jays traded six players off their big-league roster ahead of the deadline, while Curtis Granderson, Tyler Clippard, Marco Estrada and, most intriguingly, Josh Donaldson, should all be in play during August’s waiver period. By September at the latest, if not sooner, prospects like Billy McKinney and Danny Jansen should also be up, while right-handers Jacob Waguespack and Corey Copping, the last of 10 players acquired in the club’s sell-off, could also get looks.

“We’re in a spot now where we’re calling up younger guys to see what they can do,” said reliever Ryan Tepera, who will be jockeying with incoming reliever Ken Giles to replace Roberto Osuna as the club’s primary closer. “We addressed some things and a lot of it is just picking each other’s brains, getting back to talking baseball and learning from each other. Sometimes, especially this time, we get a little bit more selfish and locked into our own things, we’re on our phones or whatever. But the fun part is coming to the field, being around the guys and talking baseball. That’s good for the young guys coming up.”

Especially since finding that extra gear against teams like the Athletics, who get an extra push by the carrot of a potential trip to the post-season, can be so trying.

General manager Ross Atkins described his club’s current plight as “very challenging and extremely frustrating,” and said given where they are in the standings, he’s “actually been really impressed” by the steadiness of his team’s effort.

“Obviously when you have a tough game like they had (Monday),” he added, “(manager John Gibbons) would say it better than I would, the leadership from the clubhouse is always best.”

For a team whose future starts now, all the more so.


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