BALTIMORE – The thing that’s been most stupefying about the Toronto Blue Jays’ ongoing offensive woes is that not only are the game’s better arms stuffing them at the plate, so too are the guys you’re supposed to do damage against. You know, pitchers with ERAs like 7.08. Pitchers like David Hess.
You may remember the Baltimore Orioles right-hander from such outings as April 1 at Rogers Centre, when he threw 6.1 no-hit innings, allowing only one walk with eight strikeouts, before being pulled because of pitch-count limitations.
Between that game and the return engagement Wednesday night, Hess allowed 50 runs, 45 earned, in 46.2 innings over 10 starts. Only once did the Orioles win a game he started. This had breakout night written all over it for the Blue Jays.
Yet, through the first 2.2 innings, they were still hitless against Hess. Broken up by two months, sure, but that made for a full nine innings of no-no versus the Blue Jays. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. promptly put an end to that with a groundball through the 3-4 hole in between walks to Cavan Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. that loaded the bases, but Hess found a way out, catching Randal Grichuk looking to end the frame.
Eventually, though, reality corrected, both for Hess and the Blue Jays, a six-run outburst in the fifth matching their most productive output for an inning this season, paving the way to an 8-6 victory that ended a five-game losing streak.
“By one guy having a good game, everybody follows,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “Vladdy had a good game, three hits, three bullets, and everybody followed. Gurriel had a good game, and they were back-to-back. We have times when one guy has a good at-bat and then next two guys don’t. Today, one-by-one, they had good at-bats and that helped.”
A Gurriel RBI single erased a 1-0 deficit, a wild pitch scored Cavan Biggio with the go-ahead run and the Blue Jays blew through the 2019 run expectancy for bases loaded with none out of 2.3454 per Baseball Prospectus when Rowdy Tellez sent a 97.8 m.p.h. sinker from Miguel Castro over the wall in right for his second grand slam of the season.
That’s what you do to pitchers like Hess, who was charged with four of the runs, and uneven relievers like Castro.
TIME OF GAME
Four hours, five minutes. For real. Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final started later and finished earlier. The St. Louis Blues were hoisting the Cup before the final out.
The four RBIs for Tellez were his first since a solo home run against the Boston Red Sox on May 22. Between then and Wednesday, he was mired in a 4-for-38 rut over 12 games, often rolling over on pitches en route to a .105/.150/.158 slash line.
In batting practice earlier in the day, he had told himself to get back to the basics of his swing, to use the entire field the way he can, and to avoid getting pull-happy, something he felt he’d become during the slide.
“Yeah, pretty bad,” Tellez said. “I went into BP today and wanted to hit hard line drives all over the field, mainly to centre, left-centre, right-centre – I didn’t want to pull much. I wanted to stay in the middle of the field, make sure I was staying through the middle field in the game.”
After two flyouts to centre in his first two at-bats, he employed that approach against Castro. Tellez fouled off a belt-high sinker on the outer edge to fall behind 1-2, took a chase changeup that evened the count and then turned on a down-and-in heater at 97.8 and impressively kept it fair.
“Just a typical at-bat, soft in, hard in, then hard away and after they threw the changeup away and I took it, I had an idea what was coming,” said Tellez. “I geared up and got ready for it and put a good swing on it.”
Comfortable leads have been few and far between for the Blue Jays, and the slam put them up 6-1, which was needed against an Orioles team that’s not only on pace for 100-plus losses, but likely destined for far more than that.
Reliever Daniel Hudson made a start for the Blue Jays earlier this season, but that was part of a glorified bullpen day. On Wednesday, Derek Law got the start ahead of Edwin Jackson with the intention of having a reliever get through the top of the batting order so the starter can begin his day in a more advantageous part of the lineup.
Law did just that, working around a two-out triple and walk, and the slumping Jackson took over from there, allowing two runs on four hits and two walks over five innings of work.
“The opener worked out pretty good,” said Montoyo.
It wasn’t all smooth for Jackson as the Orioles helped him out by running into inning-ending outs in the second and third. And then in the fifth, after being staked to a 6-1 lead, he walked the first two batters of the inning and eventually allowed a run to cross on a wild pitch.
Still, there was some correction, and, for a Blue Jays team in desperate need of innings, any little bit of progress is something to build on.
“I felt good today,” said Jackson. “I just said I’m going to come out and be free. I wasn’t going to come out and take anything too serious but still be focused on the task at hand and try to come out and have fun. I feel like the past couple of starts I’ve been out there trying, trying, trying and that doesn’t necessarily work. Today it was big for me to be able to come out and relax.”
The veteran right-hander had been hit really hard in his four previous starts, allowing 29 runs, 24 of them earned, on 30 hits and 17 walks in 14.2 innings. In the first inning of those outings, he allowed eight runs, seven earned, on nine hits and six walks.
He’d continually pointed to his slider as a trouble spot, and while it was better, generating five of his nine whiffs, Jackson felt much better about his fastball, which topped out at 95.7 m.p.h.
“Being aggressive in the zone with the fastball allowed me to be able to throw the slider and sometimes when you’re pitching aggressive with the fastball, you’re can make mistakes with the slider and get away with it,” he said. “So I think I had to get back to pitching off the fastball and putting that in the back of hitters’ minds to allow me to throw the slider.”
Scoring has been enough of a challenge for the Blue Jays that the concept of add-on runs – padding a lead to ensure there’s no late comeback – has been fairly foreign in these parts.
So when Guerrero Jr. ripped an RBI double and scored on Gurriel Jr.’s base hit to make it 8-2 in the sixth, the Blue Jays looked set to cruise to an easy victory.
As it turned out, those runs were very much needed, as the Orioles scored four during a messy eighth in which the Blue Jays needed four relievers – Elvis Luciano, Joe Biagini, Tim Mayza and Hudson.
Hudson then came back out for the ninth, started the inning with a walk and a hit batter, before rallying to nail down his first save of the season.
Jordan Romano of Markham, Ont., enjoyed an impressive big-league debut in the seventh, striking out the first two batters he faced before inducing a weak groundout from Hanser Alberto to finish up a clean inning.
“It was everything I thought it would be,” said Romano. “Coming out of those bullpen gates, looking up at the crowd, the lights, it was awesome.
“The first batter I was pretty nervous, and then after that, I felt a little more calm, a little more collected. I thought to myself, just make some pitches. It’s just baseball.”
The right-hander, nearly lost in the Rule 5 draft, sat at 96.7 m.p.h. with his fastball and topped out at 99.1, overpowering stuff that opened up eyes.
“Romano was impressive,” said Montoyo, watching him pitch for the first time. “That’s great to see.”