Amid Blue Jays' rotation instability, clarity on Springer would ease concerns

Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Cole Irvin went a career-high eight innings and strikes out nine as the A's hold the Toronto Blue Jays to just 3 hits in a 4-1 win.

TORONTO – George Springer left Sunday’s 7-2 win over Atlanta early with what the Toronto Blue Jays described as fatigue. Then, the star outfielder had what the club called a planned day off Monday, when he was unavailable to pinch-hit in a 5-4 loss to the Oakland Athletics. Next, his hoped-for return Tuesday became an unplanned day off because he was still feeling “it” in his quad.

What is “it,” exactly? Good question.

Still fatigue, or discomfort, or pain? Let’s put a name on what we’re talking about here.

“I would use fatigue, maybe, I wouldn’t use pain,” manager Charlie Montoyo said before a 4-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics. “Because pain, you can’t play. I wouldn’t call it pain.”

Well, Springer isn’t playing, anyway, and communicating clearly about what’s happening with the $150-million man would help snuff out growing unease about his status. The use of vague language in recent days has created a little bit of a vacuum – did he come back too early, was he still injured all along – and if he simply has lingering fatigue in the quad he strained last month and only returned from last week, there’s no need to talk around the issue.

Because lingering fatigue would readily explain the grey zone surrounding Springer these past few days. Fatigue suggests he’s not hurt enough to hit the injured list, but not healthy enough to play without risk of aggravating the quad and turning it into a more serious injury.

Under such a scenario, playing out his day-to-day status makes sense, allowing him to resume action the moment he bounces back. Playing a few games with a shortened bench is a worthy trade-off if Springer only needs a few days rather than the mandatory 10 on the IL.

Still, given that he’s played only four games since being activated last week, grabbed at his quad Saturday while running up the line, exited early Sunday and has yet to be strong enough to play in the field, why not make him take the 10-day timeout? What’s the downside in giving him time to more fully recover so he can return and play the outfield, too?

“Because was able to swing the bat when he came back,” said Montoyo. “The goal was that he was going to play in the outfield. Sunday he felt fatigue. Before that he was feeling good. You could see it at the plate. He was swinging the bat well, hitting bombs. Everything was going good until that Sunday he felt fatigue. He didn't pull anything. He just felt it a little bit, so we’ve been patient since then.”

How much longer the Blue Jays can do that, with the team in the midst of 10 games in a row and running a two-man bench, is an interesting question. The Blue Jays’ rotation instability makes a 14-man pitching staff essential at the moment, although with Robbie Ray starting Wednesday and Hyun-Jin Ryu due to return Thursday, that need may become less acute.

Anthony Kay provided four innings of work Tuesday, the damage against him all coming in a fateful second during which Sean Murphy and Matt Chapman opened with consecutive singles, Jed Lowrie doubled them home and Mitch Moreland followed with a two-run homer.

The 26-year-old lefty continues to be an up-and-down option for the Blue Jays, who see him as a starter rather than a reliever, said Montoyo. Both Lowrie’s double and Moreland’s homer came on four-seamers while a cutter that was his main secondary option played to better effect.

“It was pretty good today,” said Kay. “I got a couple of strikeouts on it, I got the double play (by Vimael Machin to end the fourth) on it, so I think it's pretty much right where I want it to be. Hopefully it can be a pretty solid out pitch. I think it'll help play off the fastball."

Trent Thornton followed with 2.2 innings of one-hit, one-walk work before Ty Tice mopped up the final 1.1 frames, providing a needed breather for a too-busy bullpen.

That they kept things close and gave the offence a chance to pull things out against an effective Cole Irvin was a bonus, even if the lefty wasn’t letting them up off the mat during his eight innings. The Blue Jays managed only three hits against him, two of them in the sixth when Santiago Espinal singled and Marcus Semien doubled him home, and struck out nine times.

“I heard Guillermo (Martinez, the hitting coach) preaching try to go the other way, stay back and stuff but that's easier to say than to do,” said Montoyo. “That's what we're thinking. We just couldn't make an adjustment. So the guy deserves a lot of credit for keeping us off-balance.”

A start that deep into a game feels like the stuff of fantasy for the Blue Jays right now, although some good news came out of Trenton, N.J., where Nate Pearson allowed a run on four hits and a walk with eight strikeouts in 3.2 innings during triple-A Buffalo’s season opener.

Getting the top prospect back in form would help stabilize and add upside to the rotation, which in turn would help an offence still not fully untracked.

Springer, obviously, would help in a big way, but after doing his pre-game running Tuesday, not much changed.

“Not great. Not bad,” was how Montoyo described the session. “But he's still day-to-day. We'll see how he feels tomorrow.”

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