12:16 AM Eastern
Baby steps, I guess, but when the Blue Jays scored three runs in the bottom of the 5th to take a VERY temporary lead at 4-1, it was only the second time in what’s now a six-game home losing streak that they’ve actually been ahead.
Shannon Stewart came through beautifully, doubling his season RBI total with one swing, a rocket past the glove of Placido Polanco that split the outfielders and got all the way to the wall for a two-run triple. Aaron Hill followed with a sharp single to left to drive Shannon in, and wonder of wonders, the Jays not only had a three-run lead, but they’d picked up two straight two-out RBI hits.
The lead was gone pretty quickly, though, a couple of doubles allowed by Jason Frasor here (after he’d done a great job getting out of David Purcey’s jam with a double play ball in the 5th), a couple of doubles allowed by Jeremy Accardo there, a stunning error by John McDonald, and hello, Scott Downs. The lefty’s first pitch was deposited into the Tigers’ bullpen by Edgar Renteria for a two-run homer that made it 7-4. To their credit, Frasor and Downs had been terrific so far, allowing just one run combined, so there was bound to be a crack in the facade at some point.
What it comes down to, though, is what it has come down to in every other loss this season with one exception – the Jays just didn’t hit. The Stewart 2-run triple-Hill RBI single combo accounted for 2/3 of the club’s safeties on the night. They only had one other hit, a solo shot by Rod Barajas in the 2nd.
Stunningly, this team is now 0-4 against left-handed starting pitchers. I’ve said many times that this is a line-up that will steal southpaws’ lunch money with regularity, but so far this season, the Jays are just taking names, and not kicking butt. To be honest, taking names only has any sort of detrimental effect on your opposition if it’s accompanied by the requisite butt-kicking.
The question is, what can be done? When you look at the line-up, Frank Thomas stands out. Outside the first four games of the homestand, he’s been just terrible, though that’s nothing new for him in April. Last night I suggested that maybe the time has come to get him out of such a high-leverage spot in the line-up, that I wouldn’t mind seeing him batting 8th until he heats up, which he always does around the middle of May. The thing is, you can’t hit Frank Thomas 8th, you might as well just bench him, but if he’s on the bench, he’s not getting the reps he needs to eventually turn things around. And if Thomas is benched, that means Shannon Stewart becomes the everyday left fielder with Matt Stairs taking over at DH. As bad a start as Thomas is off to, Stewart’s is just as poor.
Thomas is hitting .167/.306/.333, while Stewart is at .235/.341/.294. The triple tonight was his first extra-base hit of the season. I’m not sure there’s an upgrade involved in removing Thomas for Stewart.
The question then becomes, is it time to Free Adam Lind, who’s hitting .360/.411/.640 in Syracuse, and shove him into a platoon role in left, pushing Stairs to platoon with Thomas at DH? It’s not a bad idea, but there are a couple of roadblocks. First, Lind hasn’t played the last two games for the Chiefs after going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts on Wednesday, so something might be up. Second, assuming Lind is healthy, the Jays would have to make room on the active roster to add him. They could drop to 11 pitchers, which I have always believed is a good idea, but then one of Downs, Brian Tallet or Jesse Carlson would have to go, since it’s not a good idea to have a bullpen with only two right-handed pitchers in it, especially if one is either Shawn Camp or the struggling Jeremy Accardo. The only other place to cut is at third, with one of Marco Scutaro or Joe Inglett having to go. Thing is, Inglett’s gone anyway when Scott Rolen comes back, so all you’d be doing is delaying the tough decision for a week and a half or so and making Scutaro your everyday third baseman until then.
Doing nothing is an option, but it doesn’t seem to be a good one. The hitters seem to require a swift kick in their collective backside. It’s still unbecrediculous to me just how hot-and-cold these hitters run. Imagine the team that’s leading the league in on-base percentage and eight 0ff the league lead in runs scored being under .500 because they can’t hit! It makes no sense at all, which is why I think it’s going to turn around on its own. But it hasn’t yet, and Tigers are starting to roll, having won four of five.
Last year, it was routine to come to the ballpark feeling as though whoever was starting for the Jays was only going to have a good chance to win if he allowed fewer than two runs, and it’s starting to feel that way again. I understand the frustration, but I do have faith in the track records of these hitters. The reason I’m talking about making a move with Thomas is that while his track record indicates that he will snap out of it and be very, very productive, that same track record indicates that we’re in for another month of what we’re getting right now, and right now he’s sucking up too many useful plate appearances.
Enough about the bats. David Purcey requires a mention, because it’s not every day a first-round pick makes his major-league debut. He looked very nervous, and it’s easy to see that from the boxscore – seven walks in 4 1/3 innings. He only gave up two hits and one run, though, thanks to couple of timely strikeouts of Gary Sheffield, Brandon Inge’s poorly-timed (for the Tigers) sacrifice bunt – that was out of nowhere and completely blew me away, SO stupid – and Jason Frasor’s bail-out double play ball in the 5th. Purcey knew he was going back down, and the Jays shipped him back to the ‘Cuse right after the game, but one hopes the lessons learned will serve him well. I expect him to pick right up where he left off in AAA, continuing to have a great year, and to be the first guy back if and when the Jays need a starter again. I know this is difficult to imagine, watching the Blue Jays as most of you do, but most pitchers do have a hard time in their major-league debuts.
Shawn Camp joins the Jays’ pen to replace Purcey and give the relief corps a third righty, as the Jays continue to call up the hot minor-league hand. Camp had been outstanding at Syracuse, allowing just four hits over 10 innings, striking out 13 without issuing a walk, and he hadn’t been scored on. Great numbers indeed, but over parts of the last four years in the big leagues, he allowed 365 baserunners in 230 2/3 innings, striking out 168, pitching to an ERA of 5.27 and allowing opponents to bat .319, and he’s 32 years old.
Lastly, whither Matt Stairs? I expected to see him pinch-hitting for Stewart in the 7th, with a runner on and the Jays down by three, and when that didn’t happen, I was stunned not to see him hit for Stewart in the ninth, with two on and the Jays down by four. So surprised that I’m not going to rip John Gibbons for not using him because it indicates that Stairs might not have been able to go. I can’t imagine any other reason for not using him in the 9th inning, because even though a Stairs homer wouldn’t have tied the game, the next three hitters were Hill, Rios and Wells, none of whom would have been pinch-hit for, and he couldn’t have been saving Stairs for extras, could he?
Comments are encouraged, as always, and I apologize for not getting to all of yesterday’s. I’m going to try to catch up when I get home.