DUNEDIN, Fla. – The Blue Jays climbed back over the .500 mark for the spring with a 6-3 win over the Boston Red Sox and their top pitching prospect, Henry Owens. The Sox also brought their best position-player prospect, catcher Blake Swihart, and Aaron Sanchez kept him hitless in two trips, while Bo Schultz took him down a third time. Sanchez became the first Blue Jays’ starter to throw a pitch in the 6th inning this spring.
Here’s what I liked and didn’t like about the game:
DEVO ON FIRE: Devon Travis came over from the Detroit Tigers for Anthony Gose with the reputation of being a kid who could absolutely rake, but in an effort to make a good impression on his new team, he got out of his swing and was a mess early. Travis was jumpy at the plate, anxious to show what he could do, and started the spring hitless in his first 11 at-bats. Then, as often happens, his first hit was nothing special and it started him off on an incredible run.
Travis got off the springtime schneid with a seeing-eye ground single up the middle against the Phillies, and since then, he has been an absolute terror. After that Philly game, Travis’ next start came against his old team. He went 2-for-4 against the Tigers and hasn’t looked back. In Thursday’s win over the Red Sox, Travis doubled twice and walked — he’s now 11-for-21 (with three walks) since that 0-for-11 run and has put himself firmly in the mix for the starting second base job.
MANUFACTURING RUNS: There’s a great deal of concern in some segments of Blue Jays fandom about the bottom of the batting order, but Dalton Pompey showed that you don’t always need big swings to score runs. Pompey led off the third inning by pushing a bunt single out past the pitcher — it had to be fielded by the second baseman, who couldn’t get the fleet Pompey. The 22-year-old then took off on a first move by Owens, Boston’s hotshot young lefty, who read it well and threw to first, but Pompey simply outran the baseball and slid safely into second with a stolen base. He moved up to third on a wild pitch and scored on a ground ball to shortstop.
That’s a run without the ball being hit out of the infield, and it’s a lot of fun to watch.
SAUNDERS SWINGING: It was a minor-league game, and he never left the batters’ box, but Michael Saunders played baseball on Thursday afternoon. Just a day shy of three weeks since having most of the meniscus in his left knee removed, Saunders had five at-bats as the designated hitter and picked up a hit.
He had a “ghostrunner”, in a manner of speaking, as he isn’t yet allowed to try to run the bases, and found it difficult to resist the urge to run when he hit the ball, but it’s a big step in Saunders getting his timing back in an effort to be ready to suit up for the Blue Jays on Opening Day — something thought to have been impossible three weeks ago.
So far, Saunders has passed all the tests as far as hitting and throwing is concerned. Once he’s able to run normally, he’ll be able to get back into real fake-game action.
There really wasn’t much that wasn’t swell in the win over Boston. If you want to get picky, we could point out the fact that Sanchez, who had a very strong outing overall, hit Jemile Weeks with an 0-2 breaking ball leading off the third inning, opening the door to a two-run Red Sox rally that was helped in part by Danny Valencia taking an extra second to make a throw home on a ground ball on which he would have been better to take the out at first and let the run score. But Valencia easily made up for that with a two-run home run.
So instead of going into depth on less-than-lovely, let us just make mention of young Roemon Fields, who was called up from the minor-league complex and went 0-for-1 with a groundout to second base. Fields, who spent all of last season in short-season Vancouver, made a favourable impression in this past weekend’s game against the Canadian Junior Nats. He went 3-for-5 with a three-run homer, played great defence and looked very strong on the bases. A late bloomer, superscout Mel Didier says Fields might be the best defensive outfielder in the Blue Jays’ system, running the best routes and doing it with blazing speed. He’s on the trip to Port Charlotte for Friday’s game against the Rays, and it’s not a stretch to think the Blue Jays are going to give him a bunch of looks as spring continues. Obviously, his bat isn’t ready for the major leagues yet, but his glove is and his legs are. If the Blue Jays find themselves in a race in September, it’s not difficult to see Fields getting a call to the big leagues to do for the Jays what Terrence Gore did for Kansas City last fall.
Gore, you’ll remember, appeared in 11 games for the Royals in September, but only had two plate appearances. Used almost exclusively as a pinch-runner, he stole five bases in as many tries and scored five runs. He found his way into six playoff games without ever coming to the plate. The Blue Jays could have the same weapon in Roemon Fields. Remember the name.