Blue Jays beat White Sox again after making tough roster call

Davis Schneider had three hits and three RBI while Kevin Gausman went six innings, surrendering just four hits and one earned run as the Toronto Blue Jays handed the Chicago White Sox their seventh-straight loss, winning 7-2.

CHICAGO – The activation of Chad Green from the injured list, an important boost for a bullpen in need of one, forced the Toronto Blue Jays to make a difficult roster decision. And they certainly made one, optioning Erik Swanson, an integral part of last year’s late leverage work who’s been through so much already this year, to triple-A Buffalo.

It was sensitive enough that he was told at the team hotel Monday night. A tough conversation is the way John Schneider described it. 

“The decision is just performance,” the manager continued. “That’s what it comes down to, obviously recognizing what he’s done for us and this year has been tough for him, going back to spring training with what happened with (his son) Toby, his whole family, physically having a little setback too, and then really hasn’t been able to get his footing. To his credit, he understood it. Obviously not happy, but we need him back. So the plan is to go down there and pitch, get ahead of hitters, locate the splitter and fastball a little bit better, and get back up here and help us.”

It’s as unsentimental and dispassionate a call as the Blue Jays have made so far this year, the first roster manifestation of the desperate situation in which they find themselves. There were ways to rationalize more big-league runway for Swanson, but the cold reality is that right now Zach Pop, Nate Pearson and Genesis Cabrera – the other optionable arms in the bullpen – are currently more reliable. 

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And with Green’s return expected to strengthen the club’s late-game leverage work – the way he did in a clean seventh Tuesday before the offence broke things open in a 7-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox – it’s better to run with the best ‘pen while Swanson gets right with margin for error.

The Blue Jays at 25-29 have eroded much of their wiggle room, of course, thanks to their struggles to begin the year. But while the lineup continues to look better than it did – Isiah Kiner-Falefa extended his hit streak to seven games with an RBI that opened the scoring, Davis Schneider had three hits and three RBIs and George Springer reached five times to key Tuesday’s offence – it’s their bedrock of pitching that fuels internal belief that a run to relevance remains possible.

“They’re all horses,” said Kiner-Falefa. “That gives us a lot of confidence every day, showing up at the ballpark, knowing we’ve got a bunch of horses. They go deep into ballgames, they give us a chance to win every night. And it’s our job as an offence and defence to ride them out. They’re definitely a strength of our team, we understand that, and we’re going to ride them.”

To that end Kevin Gausman’s continued rounding into form, delivering six innings of one-run ball despite only three strikeouts in his third straight quality start, is vital.

He gave up eight hard-hit balls against the White Sox on a night he didn’t have his best splitter. But his velocity was back up where he needs it, sitting 94.6 m.p.h. with a fastball that topped out at 96.3 during a weird weather day that began with a 40-minute rain delay and ended after a second stoppage of one hour eight minutes pushed back a pointless bottom of the ninth that lasted seven pitches.

Regardless, it was another step toward finding the steady rhythm he’s been chasing.

“Sometimes I’m getting really quick, getting antsy to go towards home and it’s happening more often than not on my off-speed pitches,” Gausman explained of his focuses now. “That’s why the inconsistency has been there a little bit with those pitches in particular. That’s where I’m at right now.  But I know I’m on the right track. I feel good with my delivery now, I’m staying behind the ball. … That’s the biggest thing for me.”

Pitching coach Pete Walker also believes Gausman’s delivery, “definitely a little bit off early in the season” due to “opening up a little too soon and leaking as opposed to staying back, being strong over the rubber,” is stabilizing. And once the ace right-hander’s “arm strength is really there, which I feel it is right now, I think you’ll see him command the fastball better,” Walker added. “When he is consistently at the top and the bottom, of the zone, I think it just makes the split that much better.”

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As Gausman works to get there, Bowden Francis moved another step closer to rejoining the bullpen, allowing one unearned run over 3.2 innings with one walk and five strikeouts for Buffalo on Tuesday. He threw 60 pitches, with 10 swinging strikes, while his fastball sat 92.3 and topped out at 94.6. 

Francis’ looming return should further help steady the bullpen and the roles within it, even while Swanson figures out his splitter, his key pitch, on which he’s surrendered all five home runs against and four of the six doubles he’s given up.

“It’s been difficult,” Walker said of all the bullpen juggling so far this year. “We’ve learned to rely on Chad quickly and he was a big part of the back end of that bullpen early on. … Obviously losing him for a pretty significant amount of time affected that, especially with Swanny struggling in the early part of the season for a lot of reasons. And then, of course, Bowden gives us length on days when he can possibly eat up two or three innings and protect some other guys. So it has a trickle effect, losing a couple guys like that can affect other guys, when they pitch, how they pitch, who they’re pitching against, whether it’s a good matchup or not. So for us having (Chad) back is significant and eventually Bowden, as well.”

Green allowed an infield single to Korey Lee in an otherwise clinical seventh when the game was still 4-1. Without Bo Bichette’s RBI single and Justin Turner’s two-run base hit opening things up in the eighth, he would have bridged to Yimi Garcia and Jordan Romano, just as the Blue Jays intended in the spring.

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“In today’s game you have to be willing to pitch in any situation,” said Green, who collected two saves during seven outings before hitting the IL. “There are very few teams that have their eight and nine locked in. We’re very fortunate to be pretty close to having our eight-nine locked in. But you’ve got to be able to adjust, and sometimes it’s just baseball, and stuff happens.”

Stuff does indeed happen, as it did to the Blue Jays in a season that hasn’t gone to plan, in which they have to be able to adjust.

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