TORONTO – Charlie Montoyo kept declining to speculate about the severity of George Springer’s left knee sprain – the gruesome-looking injury suffered in Seattle originally diagnosed as a left ankle sprain – and really, he didn’t have to.
Even as the Toronto Blue Jays manager fought off attempts to label the star outfielder’s status and expressed hope that he’ll again bat atop the lineup this season, the sombre pitch to his usually upbeat tenor sure suggested that Montoyo was bracing for the worst.
When more definitive word arrives wasn’t immediately clear – Springer was due to be examined by a Washington Nationals physician before Tuesday night’s 12-6 loss in the American capital, and the team offered no update afterwards. But his placement on the 10-day injured list, with versatile prospect Otto Lopez recalled from triple-A Buffalo to take his place, means the three-time all-star will be out at least through Aug. 24, and it’s hard to imagine it not being longer than that.
Regardless of how much time he ends up missing, the Blue Jays don’t have highway to spare waiting for Springer to return and drive them up the wild-card standings. This is a moment for others to emerge and carry the freight, and whether it happens or not will help determine this season’s fate.
“He's down. Not only George, the whole team – he's one of our best players, we're doing pretty good with him at the top of our lineup,” said Montoyo. “Now, we've got to do what we did when he we lost him the first time. Somebody has got to pick up the slack and do the best they can, and we've done that before. Let's do it again until he comes back.”
It didn’t happen in their first shot at it against a stripped-down Nationals club that had lost seven straight, as a six-run third inning unravelled on Alek Manoah, who without his best stuff got BABIP’d and Angel Hernandez’d while also missing spots during the pivotal frame.
Highlighted by an Alcides Escobar two-run double and Yadiel Hernandez two-run single that Bo Bichette nearly gobbled up on a dive, that rally turned a 1-1 tie into a 7-1 Nationals lead. That helped Erick Fedde get through five innings with only three runs allowed, and provided enough margin for error for a bullpen that needed it.
The Blue Jays, as they do, tried to avoid a fourth loss in five outings by rallying for a three-spot in the eighth after Mason Thompson loaded the bases on a single and two walks. Kyle Finnegan took over and Santiago Espinal beat out the return on a potential double play ball to bring in one run, Luis Garcia booted another potential twin-kill grounder from Reese McGuire to plate a second and Alejandro Kirk made it 8-6 with an RBI single.
But Marcus Semien just missed a hanging slider that he popped to short right for the second out before Bichette grounded out to end the frame, and Tayler Saucedo and Rafael Dolis couldn’t put up a zero in the bottom half, as Ryan Zimmerman delivered a sacrifice fly, old friend Riley Adams capped a three-hit night with a two-run double and Victor Robles cashed him in with a single.
Asking the offence to undo a seven-run deficit and continually piling innings on the bullpen is unfair, of course, and that’s why Manoah’s inability to stop the bleeding was so costly.
"I trust the kid. It's an overworked bullpen. You start taking guys out in the third inning, you're not going to have enough,” Montoyo said of balancing the leash on Manoah and trying to keep the game in check. “These guys are throwing a lot. I still trust Manoah, tough luck, balls finding holes and stuff. He had to find a way to give us at least three full innings, so he was going to get some leeway just because of our bullpen situation.”
Adams, traded to Washington before the deadline for Brad Hand, started the rally with a base hit and after Fedde struck out, Manoah lost the handle on a fastball that hit Robles before Escobar ambushed a middle-middle sinker to make it 3-1.
Juan Soto then walked when Hernandez declined to call two pitches in the zone strike three, and consecutive singles by Josh Bell and Hernandez, who homered in the second to open the scoring, and a Carter Kieboom sacrifice fly opened things up.
Down a couple ticks in velocity and lacking his usual swing and miss stuff – he generated only two whiffs in 53 pitches – Manoah said his approach was “just continue to make pitches.”
“They hit the ball pretty good, tonight,” he added later.
Adams opened the fourth by greeting Trent Thornton with his second homer since joining the Nationals, but Teoscar Hernandez kept lighting it up with a two-run homer in the fifth that cut the deficit to 8-3.
Named the American League’s player of the week Monday, Hernandez has been doing more than his share of the heavy lifting and the Blue Jays will need more from him, Randal Grichuk and Corey Dickerson, whose run-scoring groundout in the second tied the game 1-1, in Springer’s absence.
Steadier relief work, long the club’s Achilles’ heel, will be another necessity, and to that end Montoyo said “there’s a good chance” that Tim Mayza will return from the injured list Wednesday.
That will be a lift, a needed one after Montoyo said Springer reported some knee pain a couple days ago as the discomfort in his ankle eased. An MRI revealed a left knee sprain and pushed his status for the season into limbo.
“I wish I did (know if he’ll be back), honestly, but I don't,” said Montoyo. “I don't even want to speculate how long it's going to take. But, of course, our hope is that he's back before the year is over, for sure. But I don't want to speculate on timeline because I don't really know.”
Definitively, sure, but in tone, he sure sounded like someone who had a sense of where the situation is headed with Springer, and it’s not to the place he or the Blue Jays want.