MILWAUKEE – When the Toronto Blue Jays were planning for the 2017 season, they weren’t sure about Joe Biagini as a starter and they hadn’t committed bullpen spots to Danny Barnes or Ryan Tepera. Jose Bautista certainly wasn’t expected to play third base, and Anthony Alford wasn’t considered a big-league option.
Yet the Blue Jays’ latest win, 4-3 over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park, would have been impossible without major contributions from each of those players, including a couple of career firsts. A pleasant contrast, no doubt, for a 20-26 team that’s already had its share of disheartening losses.
Biagini pitched four strong innings before a string of ground ball singles forced the Blue Jays to call on the bullpen in the fifth. Barnes and Tepera bridged the gap to Joe Smith and Roberto Osuna, as the bullpen pitched 4.2 scoreless innings against a Milwaukee lineup that leads MLB in home runs. Impressive (or as Biagini put it afterwards, “fantabulous”).
Biagini threw a career-high 77 pitches Tuesday, and by the end of the outing his pitches lost some of their sharpness. Even so, he limited the damage.
“He ran out of gas a bit at the end, but I thought he was dynamite the first few innings,” manager John Gibbons said. “It wasn’t like he was getting knocked around, but they found the holes.”
Biagini even contributed at the plate, driving in a run with a groundout in the second inning. The six-foot-five, 240-pound right-hander hit a potential double play ball but hustled hard down the line and beat the Brewers’ relay throw to the delight of his teammates.
“I don’t know how many opportunities I’m going to get to contribute offensively in my career,” Biagini said.
Bautista, starting at third base for the first time in four years, provided stellar glovework at the hot corner while collecting two singles and a walk. Kendrys Morales followed up the second of those singles with his eighth home run of the season to provide the Blue Jays with just enough offence to win their second game in a row.
Then there’s Alford, who hit a pinch-hit double off of the centre-field wall for his first MLB hit. Considering that he was at double-A this time last week, his contributions at the MLB level are especially impressive.
“It was special,” Alford said. “It was something I’ve been waiting for for it seems like a while now. It was definitely a great feeling and on top of that we got the win.”
Quietly, Barnes and Tepera have become some of Gibbons’ most trusted relievers and they showed why Tuesday. Barnes escaped a fifth-inning jam by striking out Ryan Braun and Travis Shaw, then followed that up with a clean sixth to earn his first career win.
Tepera followed by extending his scoreless streak to 17.1 innings while striking out two in the seventh. At this point he has the longest active scoreless streak among all MLB relievers.
“In the past that wouldn’t have happened to him,” Gibbons said. “He didn’t have the confidence then that he does now.”
From there, Smith and Osuna closed out the game. All things considered, a strong performance on a night the Blue Jays asked their bullpen for a lot.
“Some people would say ‘they’re going to get worn out now,’ but I honestly think that it’s going to help us later on,” Barnes said. “Guys build confidence, they get experience from this, it’s only going to help them out later.”
It wasn’t the kind of win anyone expected a couple of months ago, but with so many players still sidelined it’s exactly what they need.