The Blue Jays have veteran Henry Blanco in the lineup on Monday night to catch left-hander Mark Buehrle against the Tampa Bay Rays, rather than the regular catcher J.P. Arencibia.
Blanco, 41, has been used primarily as knuckleballer R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher.
The move illustrates one of the early-season challenges faced by the Blue Jays (11-21) as they struggle to come together following two major off-season trades and the ingestion of free agents Melky Cabrera and Maicer Izturis.
Buehrle, who works quickly and rarely shakes off his catcher, had a comfortable working relationship in Miami with catcher John Buck, who came to the Jays in the same 12-player deal last November. However, the Jays flipped Buck to the Mets in the Dickey deal in December.
Asked if Buehrle had made the request to switch catchers, Gibbons insisted it’s his call.
“I just want to run one game like that and see,” Gibbons said. “You know, with Mark, it’s been a tough go for him, so just want to change up the catcher and see if that does anything.
Buehrle is 1-2 with a 6.43 earned-run average in six starts and with an average of 5 2/3 innings per outing, is behind the pace to reach 200 innings, as he’s done in the previous 12 seasons.
The velocity on Buehrle’s fastball is down a fraction, though he’s throwing other pitches slightly harder than last season. Command of his pitches has been the biggest issue. He’s allowed six home runs in the past two starts, getting the ball up in the strike zone.
“This is a game of adjustments, no matter who you are,” Gibbons said. “His game is living on the corners and as long as he’s able to do that, he’s going to get the outs.”
Arencibia wants to play as often as his body will allow. He referred reporters to the manager.
“He’s not happy, I didn’t expect him to [be],” Gibbons said. “It’s just something I want to look at.”
Blanco is hitting .150 in 20 at-bats. Arencibia is averaging .243 with eight homers and 16 runs batted in.
Arencibia had two hits in the 10-2 win over Seattle on Sunday, his ninth multi-hit game of the season. He leads American League catchers in home runs, RBI, extra-base hits, and total bases.