The atmosphere at Rogers Centre for Toronto’s first game back home PJD – post Josh Donaldson – was still a little unsettled as the Blue Jays prepared to meet the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night.
Toronto manager John Gibbons was surprised when he learned that the former team star had been relegated to the disabled list by his new team, the Cleveland Indians, earlier in the day.
Apparently, that nagging left calf strain that had prevented him from suiting up for the Blue Jays since May 28 is still nagging him.
Donaldson was sent to Cleveland on Friday night, along with some cash, for a player to be chosen later.
With Donaldson on the DL, it puts a big damper on what undoubtedly would have been an emotional reunion on Thursday when the Indians are scheduled to begin a four-game series in Toronto.
It won’t be much of a homecoming now that the star attraction will not be in attendance. Save that ceremonial bunting for next year.
“I was looking forward to seeing him,” said Gibbons, who has made no secret of his brotherly affection for his former third baseman.
Playing his first rehab game Monday afternoon with Columbus, Cleveland’s Triple-A outfit, Donaldson hit a grand slam.
“He can’t do that for them [the Indians]?” Gibbons wondered.
Monday night marked Toronto’s first of seven games at home, their second-last home stand in a dreary season. The façade of challenging for a playoff spot faded long ago.
The Blue Jays had been hoping Marcus Stroman, who started on Monday, would have a strong outing and provide a small measure of solace.
Instead, Stroman only provided more questions than answers, lasting just 1 2/3 innings in what was his shortest outing of the season as the Rays (74-63) bounced the Blue Jays (62-75) 7-1 in what was a mostly ponderous game for the 18,000 or so in attendance.
The Rays have beaten the Blue Jays eight times in 10 meetings this season. The Blue Jays were outhit 11-4 on the night, the sixth successive game against Tampa Bay Toronto has been held to five or fewer hits.
To be fair, Stroman might have been a tad rusty, only just being activated from the DL after missing one start trying to heal a nagging blister on his right middle finger.
He got tagged for three hits in the first inning,which resulted in a 1-0 Tampa Bay lead with Tommy Pham cashing Matt Duffy from second base on a bounder up the middle.
Stroman’s unravelling continued in the second inning, where the Rays piled on three more runs.
The drubbing began when Kevin Kiermaier, the Tampa Bay leadoff hitter, stroked a hit just inside the bag at first base.
Kiermaier has great speed and when the ball found the right-field corner the Rays’ centre fielder easily made his way to third. Kiermaier finished with three hits and was just a home run short of hitting for the cycle.
After his triple, Kiermaier’s wheels must have been on the mind of Justin Smoak, the Toronto first baseman, who fielded a one-out grounder by Nick Ciuffo. Smoak threw home to catcher Luke Maile, fearing that’s where Kiermaier was headed. But Kiermaier put on the brakes and headed safely back to the bag at third and Ciuffo was on with a fielder’s choice.
Kiermaier scored Tampa Bay’s second run on a single by Mallex Smith. Duffy then followed with a double that brought in two more to bring the score to 4-0.
When Stroman plunked Pham with a pitch, that was enough for Gibbons, who yanked his starter in favour of reliever Jose Fernandez. Stroman allowed four runs off six hits.
The Blue Jays showed a bit of life in the bottom of the second when Teoscar Hernandez singled home Aledmys Diaz to cut the Tampa Bay lead to 4-1.
But Hernandez could not provide a shut-down third, which started when Joey Wendle stroked a leadoff double and scored on a Kiermaier single.
Tampa added a single run in the fifth and another in the seventh on a solo home-run shot by Ji-Man Choi off new Toronto reliever Taylor Guerrieri.