TORONTO — While Gabriel Moreno scrambled to finish the play, Kevin Gausman went down hard and the rest of the Toronto Blue Jays held their breath.
Moments earlier, a 100 m.p.h. line drive off the bat of Wander Franco had hit Gausman on his right ankle, leading to a scary moment at Rogers Centre Saturday afternoon. The comebacker did chase the right-hander from the game after just two innings, but x-rays came back negative and the official diagnosis was a right ankle contusion.
“You feel for a guy like that,” said Casey Lawrence, who replaced Gausman after a brief warm-up in the Blue Jays’ bullpen. “You don’t want anybody to go down in those situations. At the same time, you know you’ve got to be ready to go out there and perform. You’re still thinking about it, hopefully everything’s OK. But then you’ve got a job to do: get major-league hitters out.”
Ultimately, the Blue Jays still lost the first game of their double-header against the Rays 6-2, but Gausman’s status matters more than the result of this one game and on that front, the Blue Jays appear to have avoided a far worse fate. Once Moreno retrieved the ball and threw it to first for the out with an athletic play, Gausman left the field under his own power.
When Lawrence was added to the Blue Jays’ roster as the 27th man on Saturday morning, he wasn’t even sure he’d pitch, but the 34-year-old gave the Blue Jays 5.2 innings of relief on 87 pitches just four days after throwing 99 pitches at triple-A on Tuesday.
“It’s part of the job description,” Lawrence said. “Being thrown into that situation for me, it’s kind of put my head down and get as deep into the game as I can while giving us a chance to win.”
“I left it all out there,” he added.
Like Gausman, Lawrence took a comebacker off his leg. After a visit from the trainer, he stayed in the game.
“A little bit of ice and some Advil and I’ll be OK,” he said.
While Lawrence was charged with all six runs, including home runs to Isaac Paredes and Franco, the innings he absorbed on short rest were important for a team bracing for two games on one day.
“That’s a great job by Lawrence,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “I could go to Lawrence right now and ask for an inning in the second game (of the doubleheader) and he would say yes. He deserves a lot of credit for that.”
But Shane McClanahan was absolutely dominant for the Rays, limiting the Blue Jays to just one run on three hits while striking out 10 in one of the best pitching performances against Toronto all year. Beyond a first-inning RBI single from Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the Blue Jays managed very little in front of the 39,426 in attendance.
“Usually I don’t talk about the other guys, but he was really good,” Montoyo said. “He keeps you off-balance. He pitches like a guy who throws 90 or 91, but he doesn’t. He throws 97. It’s tough. He’s a good pitcher. One of the best pitchers in baseball for sure.”
The scary moment with Gausman also underscored the vulnerability of this starting rotation beyond its front five. At this point, the Blue Jays aren’t sure whether Gausman will be able to take his next turn, scheduled for Thursday in Seattle.
“We’ll see how he feels tomorrow and go from there,” Montoyo said. “That’s too far from now."
Should Gausman or anyone else need to miss a turn, Lawrence, Max Castillo and Thomas Hatch represent the next layer of depth for the Blue Jays.
In recent weeks, the Blue Jays have been monitoring the trade market for rotation help, and those efforts are sure to intensify as the Aug. 2 trade deadline approaches. Of course, big-name players haven’t been traded yet with reclamation projects easier to find than impact arms right now.
Along those lines, the Blue Jays announced the acquisition of Anthony Banda during the game. A 28-year-old lefty, Banda had recently been designated for assignment by the Pirates after posting a 6.41 ERA in 23 relief appearances with Pittsburgh.
Despite the ugly ERA, he’s controlling the strike zone well with 22 strikeouts compared to just five walks. With a 95 m.p.h. fastball and a change-up he uses liberally, Banda’s been exceptional at limiting hard contact so far in 2022.
Before he joins this pitching staff, though, the Blue Jays have a second game to play. And thanks to Lawrence, their bullpen’s in presentable shape for the night ahead.