TAMPA, Fla. — Some items of interest from Game No. 161 for the Toronto Blue Jays, a 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday night:
• Rowdy Tellez sure seems to have earned the notice of other teams given the way they’ve been pitching the rookie slugger.
Last week, for instance, when top Cy Young contender Blake Snell faced the Blue Jays, Tellez saw 16 pitches, only four of which were fastballs. On Saturday, when Tellez stepped in with the bases loaded in the first inning, Snell started the kid off with a slider that Tellez drove deep to centre for a sacrifice fly. Then, in the third, Snell went first-pitch heater before consecutive curveballs for the strikeout.
Considering on paper it should be a mismatch — dominant left-hander versus a rookie lefty — it signifies a measure of respect.
“They’re just trying to exploit my weaknesses, I guess,” said Tellez. “They know I can hit a fastball, they’re trying to get to where I might beat myself or roll over or something along those lines. In that at-bat (in the first), in that situation, I was just looking for something up in the zone to be able to put it in the air and get the guy in from third.”
And his assessment of how he’s handled breaking balls and off-speed pitches in the majors?
“I just think you need to be able to hit the ones in the zone and lay off the ones out of the zone, simple as that,” he replied. “Be able to anticipate when they’re coming, if they’re going to go away, in, back foot. But mainly just hit the ones in the zone.”
• Teoscar Hernandez went deep against Diego Castillo in the sixth inning to provide the Blue Jays with a short-lived 2-1 lead, giving him homers in consecutive games for the first time since Aug. 8-9.
With 22 homers, he’s now alone in third on the club, three back of co-leaders Justin Smoak and Randal Grichuk. Upon his return to the dugout, his teammates have showered him in sunflower seeds, a tradition he started earlier in the season whenever a Blue Jay goes deep.
Why? “In the minors, we used to throw water at guys when they hit a homer but I didn’t want to throw water at anyone here, especially when it was cold,” said Hernandez. “So I opened a seed pack and threw it on a guy, and that’s how it started. Everybody liked it. Now everybody picks up a seed pack and throws it at the guy.”
The seed showers were particularly heavy for Hernandez over the past two days, as his teammates have become far more aggressive in getting the creator of the tradition.
“They get me a lot worse,” said Hernandez. “I just take one pack and pour it on the head. They take like 10 and poured them down my back. I get seeds all over my body. We just try to have some fun. You have to have that during the game, that’s the stuff we need as a team.”
• Ryan Borucki finished the season with 174.2 innings pitched between triple-A Buffalo and the big-leagues, a total which would have easily led the Blue Jays had they all been logged in the majors.
As it was, the 6.2 frames of four-run ball he delivered against the Rays pushed him to 97.2 in the majors and he did a nice job of holding down a Rays team stocked with its regulars as they moved a win away from 90 on the season.
“If you had asked me in 2015, I would have never thought I was going to be able to get over 100 innings,” said Borucki. “Last year I had 150 and this year to be able to increase it a little bit, that’s really good. I’ve been working hard to stay healthy and get my body right to be able to do this. It feels good to have all the hard work pay off.”
Still, he knows more hard work awaits as he targets 200 frames in 2019 and noted that he felt himself “getting a little bit tired at the end, the last couple of starts. Now I’ve got to build my body up to be able to sustain through September.”
• Solo shots by C.J. Cron in the second and Austin Meadows in the seventh — a go-ahead drive on a left-lefty change-up on the inner edge of the plate — were the only major mistakes Borucki made, although his three walks were somewhat uncharacteristic.
• One of the things Danny Jansen intends to work on over the off-season is his throwing but he made a nice toss to pick off Willy Adames at second base in the fourth inning. Brandon Lowe showed bunt but took a ball and Jansen popped up and immediately threw to second, where Adames had strayed too far.
The out helped Borucki ease out of a two-out, none-out jam unscathed.
“Danny’s done a nice job throwing,” said manager John Gibbons. “The key is just get the guys you’re supposed to get, that’s what you’ve got to do. I do think he’s quickened up his release from what I remember in the past, that’s a part of it, too. He’s a little bit more smooth and compact, it looks like to me. That’s something he’s definitely improved on.”
• Snell closed out his season with five innings of one run ball, working around three hits and four walks with the help of 10 strikeouts. That gave him a 1.89 ERA over 180 innings and he’ll finish about 30 back of Justin Verlander, perhaps his strongest competition for the Cy Young Award.
Quantity over quality will be one key point of debate for voters to consider, but a strong case can be made that no pitcher has been more dominant.