Josh Thole’s promotion Friday answered one of the, oh, 1,290 nagging little questions surrounding the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays: What did Henry Blanco bring to the table offensively in his cameos as R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher that Thole couldn’t?
But it was the other player promoted along with Thole – Andy LaRoche – whose presence gave rise to a more serious question: When will Brett Lawrie (who hurt his ankle on May 27) be back?
Watch: Blue Jays 6, Rangers 1
Is it really possible shortstop Jose Reyes (who hasn’t played since he hurt his ankle on April 12) might be on the field before him, as some in the organization are suggesting?
“Lawrie’s not doing much,” manager John Gibbons said. “We’re not sure when he’ll return. He has a walking boot on now. High ankle sprains are tough.”
Asked later if he believed Reyes’s return could precede Lawrie’s, Gibbons just shrugged. “They both have to go out [on injury rehabilitation options].”
The conclusion of the Major League Baseball draft traditionally heralds the beginning of the build-up to the July 31 trade deadline. For most organizations, attention is somewhat divided leading up to the draft, but it’s a safe bet that given their position in the standings the Blue Jays are going to be carrion for circling scouts.
For many observers, this 21-game stretch that will conclude with a three-game series at home against the Texas Rangers was something of a touchstone for the Blue Jays. They were 17-24 at the time, after a two-game sweep of the San Francisco Giants, and were 8 1/2 games out of the American League East lead, nursing a neat little 7-3 run at the quarter-pole that seemed to raise hopes. But going into Friday, they’d gone 8-10 since, leaving them 11 games back.
There have been signs the Blue Jays rotation is slowly and belatedly rounding into shape – beyond Ricky Romero’s strong outing for Triple-A Buffalo on Friday, and beyond the imminent signing of 33-year-old Chien-Ming Wang, who was 4-4 (2.33 ERA) in nine starts with the New York Yankees’ Triple-A side and who exercised an opt out of his minor-league contract, according to agent Alan Nero, forcing the Yanks to release him, freeing him to sign with the Jays.
The Toronto bullpen continues to be steady, and the hope is promoting LaRoche – a capable defender who is best at third base – and Thole, who was Dickey’s personal catcher last season, when Dickey won the National League Cy Young Award, will build on a growing sense of order. It won’t be enough for a furtive run at the postseason (that ship has sailed, folks) but it should make for a better brand of baseball as the team attempts the long climb to .500.
Thole hit .322 at Buffalo, with seven home runs, five doubles and 31 runs batted in through 41 games. LaRoche, meanwhile, hit .282 with seven homers and 32 RBIs.
Gibbons said LaRoche would have been up in the majors before now were it not for the fact the Blue Jays had seven interleague games in National League cities, where the designated hitter was not in effect. Gibbons and the Blue Jays swallowed hard and decided to use Edwin Encarnacion at third base in order to keep Adam Lind’s bat in the lineup. Encarnacion is an underrated defender at first base but uncertain at third. His defence only ended up costing the Blue Jays one game, a small mercy given the mess that has been 2013.
Thole will catch Dickey’s bullpen session Saturday, in what the pitcher said will be an attempt to “get reacclimated with the movement on the knuckleball.”
Blanco, 41, hit a tepid .184 with the Blue Jays and many believe Dickey wanted Thole as his catcher as far back as spring training. But Dickey said he wasn’t asked for input on the move.
“I always told [Jays GM] Alex [Anthopoulos] to keep me out of it,” he said.
One question down, 1,289 to go – and most of the remaining ones are a great deal more difficult.