Brett Lawrie is a bundle of nervous energy when patrolling the hot corner for the Toronto Blue Jays, pouncing on grounders like a hungry cat pursuing a mouse before quickly making the throw to first base as if the ball was a hand grenade with the pin pulled.
Meet Juan Francisco, the anti-Lawrie.
While Lawrie plays with a controlled rage, Francisco exudes a calm demeanor when he is stationed at third base, never rushing or panicking no matter how harried the situation, his throws arriving just in time at first to nab the would-be baserunner.
Lawrie’s range would encompass Centre Island if need be but the bulkier Francisco has proven nevertheless to be a competent defender at third while subbing for the incumbent as he sits nursing a sore hamstring.
Francisco was making his sixth consecutive start at third Friday night against the Los Angeles Angels at Rogers Centre. And he could continue to see regular duty there even after Lawrie has been cleared to return to the lineup, which will likely come this weekend.
The Angels finally put the clamps on what had been a dazzling offensive showing by the Blue Jays the past few games, snapping off Toronto’s season-high five game winning streak with a 4-3 decision before 21,383 onlookers.
It was for the most part a laborious game, full of umpire reviews and odd scoring plays.
The Angels would take a 3-2 lead when Toronto reliever Steve Delabar walked Howie Kendrick on four pitches in the seventh inning with the bases loaded.
Toronto’s Jose Reyes, who went 3-for-4 in the contest, would tie it with a leadoff line drive home run off Philadelphia reliever Joe Smith in the eighth. The Angels also had one home run in the game, by Mike Trout back in the third.
The winning run was scored in the ninth when L.A loaded the bases on Toronto reliever Brett Cecil and Raul Ibanez then stroked a sacrifice fly to left field to score Erick Aybar, who was tagging up at third.
Francisco has been swinging a ferocious bat since he was summoned from Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo on April 19th after Maicer Izturis was lost with a knee injury.
Heading into Friday’s game against the Angels, the first of a four-game series, Francisco had registered a hit in 14 of his 17 games this season with eight of his 19 hits going for extra bases, including five home runs.
But Francisco fell back to earth a bit on Friday, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, his average dipping from .311 to .292 in the process.
Still, his is a bat to be feared and the problem the Blue Jays are facing is how to keep it in the lineup once Lawrie returns.
“To be determined,” is all Blue Jays manager John Gibbons would say on the matter on Friday, refusing to divulge his plans despite being asked repeatedly the past couple of days where Francisco might fit in.
That spot will likely be at third base when the Blue Jays are facing a righthanded starter, with Lawrie shifting over to play second base.
The Blue Jays utilized this configuration three times during their recent National League swing through Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and there is nothing to suggest it won’t be implemented again.
It was a move Lawrie grudgingly agreed to, telling reporters in Pittsburgh, “I’m a third baseman and that’s my position.”
With that shift in order, Toronto could keep their toughest bats in the lineup with either Adam Lind or Edwin Encarnacion positioned at first base with the other player slotting in as the designated hitter.
“Right now we’re looking at everything, but yeah, when he’s hot we’ve got to find a way to keep him in there somehow,” Gibbons said.
The Blue Jays were seeking their sixth straight win against the Angels and it was a strange game.
The score was deadlocked at 2-2 through three innings even though nobody on the Blue Jays had recorded a run batted in.
Both Toronto runs were scored on wild pitches served up by Garrett Richards, the L.A. starter.