Blue Jays finally showcase some elusive power, win series vs. Guardians

Daulton Varsho crushed his second grand slam of the season and Ernie Clement added a two-run shot of his own as the Toronto Blue Jays held off a Cleveland Guardians rally for a 7-6 win.

TORONTO – There’s nothing wrong with small ball, the one-base-at-a-time approach that allowed the Blue Jays to grind out a 5-0 win on Saturday. Take those wins when you can get them – they all count the same in the end.

But no team wants to rely exclusively on the sac bunts and singles the Blue Jays needed to even the weekend series, and on Sunday they offered a glimpse of what life would be like if they actually hit for power again. An Ernie Clement two-run home run got the Blue Jays started in the second inning and Daulton Varsho hit a grand slam in the fifth to create some separation. 

Combined with a strong start from Jose Berrios, those two home runs were enough to earn the Blue Jays a 7-6 win, improving to 35-36 on the season by taking two of three from the Guardians.

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“We obviously can hit the long ball, but we’ve also got to play some small ball sometimes,” Varsho said afterwards. “It’s just really cool that we’re able to do both.”

Late in the game, though, a major question emerged for the bullpen, as Yimi Garcia exited with right elbow soreness after recording two outs in the ninth.

While Berrios was effective enough – he allowed four runs over six, including the first home run of Daniel Schneemann’s big-league career – what stood out most on Sunday was the Blue Jays’ offence. They combined for 11 hits and six walks against the Guardians with contributions from up and down the lineup even with Bo Bichette on the bench with right calf soreness for the second day in a row.

The seven-run outburst would be welcome against any opponent, but it’s especially noteworthy considering the Blue Jays’ season-long offensive struggles and the Guardians’ ability to keep runs off the board. Entering play Sunday, only the Yankees and Orioles had allowed fewer runs than the Guardians, while only the Rays and Marlins had hit fewer home runs than the Blue Jays.

Ben Lively and the Guardians were not going to be an easy matchup.

“They’re crafty,” Varsho said. “They’ll single you to death. They do a really good job of baserunning. Their pitching is outstanding and that bullpen is really, really good.”

Even so, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. singled three times and walked, and the newest Blue Jays also contributed a couple times apiece. Spencer Horwitz offered a single and a walk while Addison Barger provided two hits and an RBI.

“They’re great ballplayers,” Berrios said of the new additions. “They want to establish themselves, and they’ve been doing great by working and learning from the veteran guys.”

“It’s been awesome,” added Varsho.

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Everyone in the starting lineup reached base at least once Sunday, though it was another unproductive day at the plate for George Springer, who heard some boos on an afternoon he struck out with the bases loaded and grounded into a double play with two runners on.

Springer’s production is, of course, a significant long-term issue for this team, but it’s more easily overlooked when others are doing their part around him. Thanks to the likes of Clement and Varsho, the Blue Jays had more than enough offence to send a sellout crowd of 40,043 home happy on Father’s Day.

As for Garcia, he entered with a three-run lead only to allow a two-run home run to Brayan Rocchio followed by two more singles. After a visit from a team trainer, he exited with elbow soreness, and Nate Pearson replaced him to record the final out.

“It popped up today,” manager John Schneider said. “We’ll see how it is tomorrow.”

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Interestingly, the Blue Jays turned to Brendon Little rather than Tim Mayza to face the left-handed hitting middle of the Guardians’ batting order in the eighth. Mayza has struggled this season, pitching to a 5.48 ERA, and the Blue Jays appear to have more trust in Little, who pitched a one-two-three eighth.

If Garcia does require any time on the sidelines, it would mean all four of the relievers the Blue Jays trusted most entering the season have had setbacks, as Erik Swanson was optioned to triple-A and closer Jordan Romano is on the injured list.

“It sucks not having Yimi and Jordan,” Varsho said. “But I know a lot of guys down there are ready for the opportunity.”

Meanwhile, Yariel Rodriguez pitched another rehab outing with triple-A Buffalo Sunday, throwing 79 pitches over three innings while allowing two runs on three hits. He walked three and struck out seven out seven on a day his fastball averaged 93 m.p.h. and topped out at 96. From here, the Blue Jays will mull their options, but it’s entirely possible his next outing comes next weekend against the Guardians in Cleveland.

Between now and then, the Blue Jays have another tough assignment, as the Red Sox arrive in Toronto for three games starting Monday. Boston’s another team that excels at keeping runs off the board, but after Sunday, at least the Blue Jays have something to build on as their long climb back to .500 continues.

“We’ve been flirting with it for a couple weeks now,” Schneider said. “It sounds so cliche, but it’s one day at a time, knowing that we’re going to get there soon.”

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