Hitting was supposed to be one of the strengths of the Toronto Blue Jays this year, the one area where John Gibbons would not have to really worry about.
But through the first eight games of the regular-season schedule, the hitting has been mostly absent and the Blue Jays have been squeaking by with excellent defence.
The Blue Jays were outhit 9-5 by the Houston Astros at Rogers Centre Tuesday night.
But thanks to the long ball (homers by Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista) and a couple of run-scoring doubles by Dioner Navarro Toronto wound up on the happy side of a 5-2 outcome.
It likely would not have been that way were it not for several stellar defensive plays, something that the Blue Jays – one of the worst defensive units in the American League over the course of last season – have exceled at so far in 2014.
“Defence is one thing you can control,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. “Some of the other areas of the game, you can make a good pitch and guys still find a hole. You can line out four times and go 0-for-4, you can’t control those things but you can control what you do on the field.
“It doesn’t mean you’re going to make those plays every time. But that’s one thing you can control.”
So, yeah, Gibbons finally conceded, the Blue Jays defence has come up big this season while the office continues to sputter, with the team hitting a collective .212.
Macier Izturis, who started the game at second base for the Blue Jays, certainly had the back of starting pitcher Mark Buehrle early on.
He made a couple of stellar defensive plays, starting in the first inning when the Astros had the makings of something big.
Jose Altuve and Jesus Guzman both singled with one out for Jason Castro, who stroked a grounder up the middle that most assuredly would have scored a run had it not been for a nice intervention by Izturis.
Izturis ranged to his right and made a diving grab of the ball in behind second base. With no time to make a transfer to his throwing hand, Izturis gloved the ball to Jonathan Diaz covering at second base to get the lead runner.
Diaz then made the nice turn to first to get Castro for a nifty double play to end the inning.
Izturis made another nice defensive play in the top of the fourth with the score tied 1-1, likely saving another run in the process.
With Chris Carter perched on second with a leadoff double, Buehrle battled back to get L.J. Hoes on a groundout and Matt Dominguez on a pop out in foul territory. Carter remained stationary on second.
Alex Presley stepped into the batter’s box and rapped a grounder toward the right side that would have scored Carter had it squeezed through.
Once again, Izturis raced over and made a nice grab to throw Presley out at first.
Relief pitcher Brett Cecil also helped his own cause in the eighth inning, combining with Navarro in the eighth inning to cut down L.J. Hoes at the plate.
For Buehrle, who struggled through 5.1 innings and was fortunate to earn his second win of the season, the game was the complete opposite of his opening start last week against the Tampa Bay Rays.
In that game he was in total control and did not have to rely much on his defence, pitching into the ninth inning and striking out 11 to earn his first victory.
“I need them,” Buehrle said of his defensive backers. “I’m not striking out 11. I’ll strike out 11 over my next five starts probably combined so I need my defence behind me. So any time balls are going to be put into play and if they’re on their A-game it’s going to help me out big time.”
With Toronto’s offence struggling, it didn’t help when Jose Bautista gets caught napping at second base in the sixth inning, when the Blue Jays were clinging to a 2-1 lead.
Bautista drew a one-out walk, and then moved to second on another walk by Edwin Encarnacion.
With Navarro at the plate, Bautista then proceeded to get picked off at second based by Houston starter Brett Oberholtzer.
To make matters worse, Navarro then wacked his second double of the game that brought Encarnacion all the way around to score.
But the lead could have been 4-1 at that point instead of 3-1 because of Bautista’s miscue.