Blue Jays struggle to find consistency as depleted bullpen implodes

Willy Adames hit a two-run homer and Tobias Myers pitched six innings of one-run ball to help the Milwaukee Brewers hang on to defeat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-4.

MILWAUKEE — The Toronto Blue Jays parted with Cavan Biggio last Friday and said goodbye definitively Wednesday when they traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers for minor-league reliever Braydon Fisher, reinforcing the shift in both their roster and its usage.

Spencer Horwitz, whose promotion from triple-A Buffalo forced the Biggio move, is now almost a regular who’ll get the bulk of reps at second base. He’s also hit leadoff in three of his last five outings, pushing Davis Schneider, who ended an 0-for-18 skid with a solo shot in the first inning, down to the two-spot in a 5-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. 

With Horwitz getting more work at second, Schneider is going to get more run in left field, meaning more days off for Kevin Kiermaier with Daulton Varsho sliding over to centre. Daniel Vogelbach, meanwhile, has been eating into Justin Turner’s DH at-bats while Vladimir Guerrero Jr., rested in the finale versus the NL Central leaders, recently made two starts at third base as manager John Schneider keeps trying different combinations to unlock a steady stream of production.

“It’s going to take everybody,” he said. “It’s not going to take one or two guys clicking at the same time, it kind of takes everybody to string some ABs together. But we’re heading in the right direction. There will be a time when everyone’s clicking. When that does happen, that’s when you’re looking at more consistent offence, scoring multiple innings, things like that.”

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There is plenty of flux on the pitching side, too, and finding some consistency is essential for the Blue Jays (33-35) to take the next step now that they’re back hovering around .500.

They lost games Monday and Wednesday to the Brewers (40-28) with a chance to climb back to the break-even point and will now try to get there during a 12-game stretch that features three-game series versus Cleveland and Boston at home first and then on the road.

Davis Schneider’s solo shot gave them a 1-0 lead and Chris Bassitt, rather remarkably, made it stand over five shutout innings despite allowing five hits and four walks. Key is that he held the Brewers 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position but they grinded him out in doing so, with pitch counts by inning of 22, 8, 17, 31 and 22.

“I’ve been able to work my way out of jams because I’ve been given the ability to try to work my way out of jams,” Bassitt said of his high-wire act. “Too much in this industry guys get in jams and all of a sudden it’s like, go to the bullpen because he can’t get out of a jam. I’ve been in this situation a lot. I know how to get out of them. I think the league in general, they go the other way and they don’t give (pitchers) a chance to try to figure that aspect out.”

The short start left a lot of game for a depleted bullpen and that cost the Blue Jays before an American Family Field crowd of 30,444 when with two out in the decisive sixth, Zach Pop issued a walk to Blake Perkins.

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Brice Turang followed with a single that put runners on the corners and then took off for second, prompting Alejandro Kirk to throw through on a set play anticipating that Perkins would charge for home. But Kirk bounced his throw to Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who’d taken a couple steps in to shorten the throw home, the ball skipped into the outfield and Perkins tied the game 1-1.

“We’ve done that play before where Izzy comes in and redirects it,” said John Schneider. “You’ve just got to handle the baseball a little bit better than we did.”

William Contreras then bounced a ball through the right side to bring home Turang and after Tim Mayza took over, stole second and scored on a Christian Yelich chopper through the left side. Willy Adames followed by bashing a hanging slider 446 feet off the scoreboard in centre field that really opened things up and Sal Frelick followed with a bunt single before Jake Bauers grounded out to end the inning.

If you wanted an Exhibit A of what Rhys Hoskins described as the Brewers’ “organized chaos,” well this was it.

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Regardless, with an offence that managed only three hits through the first eight innings before a valiant three-run rally fell short in the ninth, the Blue Jays must be virtually perfect in all other aspects to win.

They made things interesting when Ernie Clement doubled off Hoby Milner, Horwitz followed with an RBI single and Davis Schneider singled before closer Trevor Megill took over. After a wild pitch, Bo Bichette’s RBI single made it 5-3, Danny Jansen walked, George Springer struck out and Kirk sent a sacrifice fly to the track in centre to make it a one-run game. Guerrero then lined out to deep centre on a 99.8 m.p.h. heater to end it.

“Swinging at better pitches, really,” John Schneider said of the difference in the ninth. “It can happen quick and it gets a little bit contagious. … When we swing at the right pitch, we’re as good as anyone. It just happened to be in that one inning, for both them and for us. You’re as good as what you swing at. And I think that we did that better later in the game.”

The Blue Jays’ bullpen, thinned out by the injury to Jordan Romano and Erik Swanson’s demotion to get right, is another area where the Blue Jays are trying to find the right mix, with Pop, Nate Pearson and Trevor Richards pushed into more leverage recently.

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Then there’s the rotation, with the vacancy created by Alek Manoah’s season-ending UCL tear. Four shutout innings with 10 strikeouts in a rehab start for triple-A Buffalo on Tuesday night seems to set up Yariel Rodriguez well to take over that slot, but it comes up Saturday meaning he’d have to jump into it on short rest.

An off-day Thursday allows the Blue Jays to push Jose Berrios up to Saturday so Rodriguez can take Sunday with both on regular rest, but John Schneider said it “would be our lean” to for Berrios to benefit from the extra day.

Still, the next steps for Rodriguez are “driving” the decision-making and starting him Saturday on short rest “is something we’re talking about, just trying to do what’s best for everyone involved. The fact that he’s been pitching on a regular schedule, you don’t want to ignore that so a couple different options – that is, of course, if he’s back with the team.”

Bowden Francis is another option if Rodriguez needs one more rehab outing but whichever route the Blue Jays take, they need to stabilize Manoah’s spot after a pair of bullpen games. Their climb from six games below .500 started on the mound and that needs to continue. 

“Our starters have got to be good — that’s the reality of our team, our starters have to be good,” said Bassitt. “And I feel like we’ve done a much better job here in like the last month of doing that.”

The Blue Jays’ ongoing adjustments are trying to replicate those gains across the roster.

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