The members of the Toronto Blue Jays gathered together down in left field about 2 1/2-hours before the scheduled first pitch against the New York Yankees on Sunday for a little meeting with manager John Farrell.
Name tags were not a requirement but just as well could have been given all the fresh new faces forced into starting roles as the injury list continues to mount.
Sunday’s game was a stunning illustration of the new challenges Farrell is faced with these days as his starting lineup card contained just one name that comprised his opening day contingent back in April.
Apart from Edwin Encarnacion, who was the designated hitter, the rest of the starting nine was primarily a who’s who of not-yet-quite-ready-for-prime-time talent, including six names that until recently had been learning their trade in the minor leagues.
Add to that mix Jeff Mathis, until recently the backup catcher, and Rajai Davis, a utility outfielder, and it is no wonder the Blue Jays have been in such a tailspin of late.
Losers of five in a row and 11 of their last 13 heading into the Yankee finale, Farrell‘s pre-game chat with the players about keeping their chins up had the desired effect – at least for one outing.
The Blue Jays hung on for a 10-7 slugfest win over the Yankees before 43,924 at Rogers Centre that provided new starter J.A. Happ with his first victory for Toronto.
It was a game that Toronto lead 10-1 through five innings before the bullpen provided New York with a fighting chance with the recently acquired reliever Brad Lincoln surrendering four of the New York runs – all in the Yankee seventh.
That pulled New York to within three before reliever Darren Oliver induced a ground ball off the bat of Andruw Jones with the bases loaded to end the Yankee uprising.
Centre fielder Colby Rasmus did not play for the second consecutive day and was joined on the sideline by shortstop Yunel Escobar, who was too sore to play after getting hit twice by pitches during Saturday’s 5-2 New York win.
Anthony Gose started in place of Rasmus in centre and Adeiny Hechavarria got the nod at shortstop. Until recently both players were toiling at the Triple-A level.
The Blue Jays were sparked by Davis, who tied his career mark with five runs batted in and made a thrilling leaping catch high off the wall that robbed Casey McGehee of a home run in the seventh.
Encarnacion also knocked a home run, a two-run shot in the fourth, his 30th of the season.
Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos said it is not the ideal situation to have so many new players in the lineup at the same time, but that the team really has little choice given it’s recent spate of injuries.
While Anthopoulos said the Blue Jays have not given up hope for the remainder of the 2012 season, he said the goal for next year is to add a starting pitcher or two, be it through free agency or a trade.
“I think we have the makings of a championship calibre team in the bullpen and from an offensive standpoint,” Anthopoulos said. “Certainly the ingredients are there. The rotation is there right now, we still need to do some work.”
About a month ago Anthopoulos said he intensified the team’s scouting of major league games that should help the team identify the pitchers they will try and make a play for.
Anthopoulos was asked how many starters would he like to add.
“I won’t say, but I think everyone can do the math,” he said. “I think we’re just going to try to upgrade the rotation any way that we can. It’s not going to be forced and it’s not going to be with a number in mind.
“Right now the only guys under guaranteed contracts are obviously [Ricky] Romero and [Brandon] Morrow.”
Everyone else for next season he said will have to earn their way in.
The Toronto Blue Jays will begin a four-game series against the Chicago White Sox on Rogers Centre in Toronto on Monday.
Monday: Toronto RHP Carlos Villanueva (6-2, 3.30) vs. Chicago RHP Jake Peavy (9-8, 3.08).
Tuesday: Toronto RHP Henderson Alvarez (7-9, 4.58) vs. Chicago LHP Jose Quintana (4-2, 2.78).
Wednesday: Toronto LHP Ricky Romero (8-9, 5.32) vs. Chicago RHP Gavin Floyd (8-9, 4.43).
Thursday: Toronto LHP Aaron Laffey (3-3, 4.72) vs. Chicago LHP Francisco Liriano (3-10, 5.35)
NEED TO KNOW
It’s another tough series for the Blue Jays against a team that is trying to pin down first place in its division. The White Sox have been one of baseball’s pleasant surprises this season. Now that the always popular New York Yankees have departed Toronto, it will be interesting to gauge the fan interest in coming to see a Toronto team whose season appears to be on life support