Jose Bautista was inserted into the starting lineup against the Milwaukee Brewers Tuesday for the first time in eight games, but to protect his strained left hamstring he was employed as the designated hitter and not in his usual spot in right field.
Even still, the Toronto Blue Jays knew they were rolling the dice, that their star outfielder might re-injure himself.
Bautista was adamant that he would do his utmost to take it easy so as to not risk any more downtime – the club desperately needs his bat and glove in the lineup.
“Hopefully I can stay focused enough on running the bases well and not going all out,” he said before the game. “Not having to worry about defence … is certainly going to help.”
Bautista went about the task at protecting his sore hamstring the best way he knows how – by blasting a solo home run in his first-inning at-bat against the Brewers. It was the only hit he would get in four at-bats on the afternoon.
“It sparked us early, put us on the board,” Toronto manager John Gibbons would later say.
It was all good – for once – for the struggling Blue Jays (46-39), who managed to prevail before a festive Canada Day gathering on Tuesday, hanging on to dump the Brewers 4-1 and snap a three-game slide.
The outcome was a big confidence-boost to the Blue Jays, who had just been just lost three of four at home to the Chicago White Sox.
What better way at soothing edgy nerves than by taking the first game of a two-game set against the Brewers, who marched into Toronto with the second-best record in Major League Baseball (51-34).
There was a festive feel at Rogers Centre on Canada Day, with the Jays decked out in their red jerseys and caps for the occasion. After a morning shower, the skies cleared and the roof was rolled back on the near-capacity matinee gathering of 45,088 fans, many also clad in red shirts and caps.
Before the contest began, Gibbons was lamenting the hot-and-cold trend that the Blue Jays have exhibited this season as they continue to lead the American League East standing.
“The extreme team, that’s us,” Gibbons said.
Gibbons said the hope was that having Bautista in the lineup would provide an additional spark to an offence that has struggled to score runs of late. The manager got what he wanted when Bautista launched his 16th home run of the season off Milwaukee starter Marco Estrada to give Toronto that early 1-0 lead.
With Drew Hutchison on the mound and firing bullets for the Blue Jays, it was almost enough.
Hutchison (6-6) was perfect over the first four innings and would wind up striking out a career-high 10 batters, allowing the lone Milwaukee run off three hits over seven innings of work.
And Hutchison showed he still had plenty left in the tank in the seventh inning to repay Gibbons, who left him in the game after he issued a walk to Mark Reynolds with the bases loaded. Hutchison came through, getting Jean Segura to line out to right field to end the uprising.
“I know Hutch pretty good,” Gibbons said afterward of his decision to let Hutchison work out of his own mess. “When he’s on he’s on. He’s got that knack for working out of some jams.
“And I thought today his fastball was really good. Even with the walk to load the bases, he got ahead of him – he was trying to pitch out of the zone. So it wasn’t a case he was losing it right there. And then of course he got the big out to finish it.”
The Blue Jays lead was extended to 2-0 in the fifth when Colby Rasmus homered for the 12th time this season.
The Brewers scratched out a two-out run in the sixth. But the Blue Jays responded with two add-ons in the eighth, highlighted by a triple by Melky Cabrera that scored the first run. That made it an easier task for Casey Janssen, who earned his 13th save by working the ninth.
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