The newcomers arrived en masse here on Tuesday to greet their big-league brethren for what once had been a build toward an exciting September stretch drive for the Toronto Blue Jays.
But the addition of the mostly minor-league posse, along with the announcement that the American League club has decided to shut down Brett Lawrie, the lightning-rod third baseman, for the rest of the season due to a lingering injury, has instead added a wait-until-next-year flavour to Toronto’s final month of the regular season.
In total, nine new players joined the Blue Jays for the first of a three-game series at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays, which Toronto won 8-2. Seven of those players are from the minors as part of the annual September call-ups, and two off the disabled list – pitcher Brandon Morrow and first baseman Dan Johnson.
Making the leap from Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo were second baseman Ryan Goins, outfielder Anthony Gose and pitchers Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin and Daniel Norris. Outfielder Dalton Pompey and catcher George Kottaras both had their contracts selected from the Bisons.
When Pompey, from Mississauga, and Kottaras, who grew up in Markham, Ont., see their first game action with Toronto, they will become the 19th and 20th Canadians to appear in a major-league game for the Blue Jays.
It will be left up to manager John Gibbons to somehow find playing time for everybody and prevent rumpled egos from further souring an already testy environment. brought on by a dreadful second half of the season as the Blue Jays let things slip away.
Gibbons denied the focus has shifted on the season, saying the aim is still to play the regulars as much as possible until the math dictates that the Blue Jays have been eliminated from playoff contention for what would be a 21st consecutive season.
The Blue Jays entered Tuesday’s contest 10 games back of the front-running Baltimore Orioles in the AL East, and in sixth place over all among teams fighting for the two playoff wild-card spots, 5 1/2games back of the second berth. Toronto now has 25 games left to play.
“No, we’re playing our regulars,” Gibbons said before the game. “These guys, in the blowouts and stuff like that, they can get in and get their feet wet. Guys had some pretty good years; three of them came all the way from A-ball this year. The guys we brought in here on the pitching side of it, they’re here to help us.”
Tell that to Colby Rasmus, Toronto’s starting centre fielder for most of the season, who on Tuesday found himself out of the starting lineup for the fifth time in the past six outings, making way for Kevin Pillar, who showed he can handle the position just fine since his recent promotion from Buffalo.
To make room on the 40-man roster, the Blue Jays finally decided that Lawrie, their oft-injured third baseman who provides a ton of spark both offensively and defensively, will have to shut it down for the rest of the season.
Lawrie, who has been out since early August with an oblique injury, has been transferred to the 60-day disabled list. Toronto also designated outfielder Darin Mastroianni and first baseman Matt Hague for assignment. Pitcher Neil Wagner was released.
“If we felt there was a scenario when he was going to be back in two weeks, we wouldn’t have put him on the 60-day DL,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said of Lawrie. “We waited as long as we could. He’s improved. I talked to him [Monday] night and he’s feeling better. But he’s still feeling it a little bit, and as we all know, with respect to obliques, that needs to completely heal, and he has to not feel a thing before you ramp up baseball activity.”
It will be interesting to see how the club handles the return of Morrow, who once again has had a season marred by injuries. Morrow has been sidelined since May with an injured right finger, and just finished a rehab stint in the minors.
Gibbons has hinted in recent talks with reporters that the bullpen might be where Morrow is best suited long term, given his long history with injuries as a starter.
“He can be effective out of the bullpen, but I have no doubt he can be an effective starter as well,” Anthopoulos said. “We didn’t have enough time to get him stretched out as a starter and this was the best way he could help the team.”
As for how Morrow’s future may map out, Anthopoulos said he couldn’t say.
“The next month is very important,” he said. “Brandon being back and being healthy is very important. You look at a guy like [Adam] Lind last year. He hit seven home runs in September and if there would have been debate in August about whether he was going to be back or not, in September he certainly cemented himself.”
He said Morrow could do the same for himself heading into next season depending on what he does over the next four weeks.