TORONTO — Back in his Little League days, Corey Dickerson didn’t handle making an out very well. He’d often get “really angry” and his father, who came to every one of his games, didn’t much appreciate all the tantrums.
“He’d always tell me that he wouldn’t come watch me again if I didn’t shore up my attitude and stuff like that,” Dickerson recalled shortly after his first Rogers Centre batting practice with the Toronto Blue Jays. “He always put me in a place and kept me in the right frame of mind. I try to say I carry his resilience with me. It makes a lot of baseball players, you’ve got to be resilient to come back every single day and compete, no matter if you’re hurting or not. He went through a lot the last couple of years of his life, and I feel like I got that from him.”
Timothy Jones Dickerson died July 6 — his 76th birthday — at Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg, Miss., having fought through heart problems and kidney cancer. Corey Dickerson, rehabilitating a left foot contusion at the time, scrambled home and arrived in time to say his goodbyes.
“That was one of the toughest things in my life, and last year my grandfather passed, too,” said Dickerson. “These two years are probably the toughest two years of my life.”
Amid the lingering grief, Dickerson rejoined his new teammates after a four-game rehab assignment and he’ll likely be activated Tuesday for the second contest in a four-game series against Cleveland, which opened Monday with a 5-2, 10-inning Blue Jays loss.
Robbie Ray grinded through six traffic-filled innings and had to adjust the gameplan mid-stream through that, but managed to limit the damage to two runs. That allowed Vladimir Guerrero Jr., to erase a 2-0 deficit by following a George Springer single in the sixth inning with his 34th homer, a 115.2 m.p.h. laser to left.
“Just seeing that they were going to be aggressive in the zone, trying to get some of that weak contact was the biggest thing,” said Ray. “When you see a team come out as aggressive as they did, that’s what I’m trying to do, not necessarily go for the punch out every time, but get weak contact. They made me battle for it and props to them for doing that.”
But it all went for naught as a crowd of 14,653, experiencing the modified extra-inning rules for the first time, watched Brad Hand open the 10th with a wild pitch that advanced runner Myles Straw to third, drawing the infield in ahead of an Ahmed Rosario base hit. Jose Ramirez then followed with a two-run homer to pad the edge.
Emmanuel Clase closed things out with a three-up, three-down 10th as the Blue Jays managed only a hit and two walks in four innings against the Cleveland bullpen, exacerbating the club’s close and late struggles. They’re now 2-6 in extra-inning games to go with 6-12 in one-run contests.
“We’re facing the best relievers on every team, but for such a good lineup, it seems we haven’t done (had success close and late) very often and that’s something that we need to change,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “We need to do better against the better relievers there at the end. And we should be able to. And I think we will just because we got good hitters.”
That the Blue Jays also endured five innings of frustration at the plate against Eli Morgan up until Guerrero’s homer underlines why the Blue Jays are eagerly awaiting Dickerson’s activation.
Aside from being a 2017 all-star with the Tampa Bay Rays — when Montoyo was the third-base coach there — and carrying a career .816 OPS, the 32-year-old is also a left-handed hitter, one with the potential to help balance a predominantly righty lineup.
“That always helps, that’s for sure,” said Montoyo. “There’s a good chance that we might activate one (Tuesday). That’s going to help from now on, for sure.”
And while on the surface adding a fifth outfielder to the mix may seem like a redundancy, having Dickerson will give Montoyo more options to start against tougher righties, as well as a bench option to put in the opposing manager’s head as they’re running through relief options.
In that way, the Blue Jays are trying to take a page out of the Rays’ book and their ability to optimize matchups over the course of a game.
“That’s why the Rays are so good,” said Montoyo. “Whenever you’re thinking about bringing in somebody (to pitch), they got like five guys waiting to pinch hit. That’s what Dickerson does for us now.…
“It feels good to have somebody like Dickerson — if he’s not playing — on the bench that you can bring in for a tough righty out of the bullpen. He can pinch-hit for anybody, he’s that good.”
Getting him acclimated, of course, will be the hard part since Dickerson has been on the injured list since June 13. He said he missed some pitches during his rehab stint with triple-A Buffalo, but felt like the competitiveness in the batter’s box was returning and “sometimes the competitiveness is what you need to go out there.”
As for his role, and how exactly he fits into the Blue Jays puzzle, he wasn’t stressing over it.
“For me, it’s just be a good teammate,” Dickerson said. “I’m going to take care of my routine and how I work and when I go out there, I’m going to compete and do the best I can, so I don’t really worry about that. I feel like it will take care of itself if I play the right way and if I do well. I’m going to be a good teammate and help the guys out around me. That’s what I enjoy the most and I’m looking forward to it.”