Slowly but surely, the Toronto Blue Jays’ lineup is starting to resemble the master plan formulated during the off-season, as the multitude of injured regulars start drifting back onto the roster.
Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki, among others, have all reluctantly paid their dues on the disabled list over the first two months of the Major League Baseball campaign.
While the excitement naturally builds over the pending returnees, there are also some growing pains upon their arrival, as the players reacquaint themselves with the nuances of a difficult game.
That point was driven home Tuesday night by J.A. Happ, who returned to the mound for Toronto in a starting role for the first time in six weeks, to face the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night at a muggy Rogers Centre.
After recovering from left-elbow soreness and on a short leash out of deference to his inactivity, Happ was understandably rusty – getting roughed up by back-to-back solo home-run shots by Zack Cozart and Toronto native Joey Votto in the first inning.
But the Blue Jays were hardly shy in the power department on this night, cranking out four home runs of their own, including a mammoth blast off the bat of Donaldson that helped send the Blue Jays (25-27) to an eventual 6-4 victory over the Reds (24-27).
The victory was Toronto’s second in a row over Cincinnati and the Blue Jays’ seventh in their past eight outings, as they continued to beat a path toward respectability in the American League East.
With the score knotted at 4-4 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Jose Bautista got the winning rally going with a leadoff single to left off Cincinnati reliever Blake Wood.
Up stepped Kendrys Morales to the plate, and he muscled his 10th home run of the season, a two-run blast to right that provided Toronto with its margin of victory.
On came Roberto Osuna in the ninth to preserve the win for Joe Smith, with Osuna earning his 10th save with a three-up, three-down frame.
After falling behind 2-0, the Blue Jays rallied, smoking three of their home runs in a memorable four-run fourth-inning outburst.
The onslaught began with Donaldson, who absolutely demolished a 2-1 offering from Cincinnati starter Asher Wojciechowski that struck the facing of the upper fifth deck about 435 feet away.
It was a two-run shot that squared the game at 2-2 and marked just the 11th time a Blue Jays’ player has reached the nether regions of the 500 level in the history of Rogers Centre.
The previous Toronto player to reach such heights was Edwin Encarnacion back in April, 2015, against Baltimore.
Donaldson figured the blast was the product of some extra study he put in following Monday’s epic 17-2 win over the Reds in which Toronto pounded out three homers.
“Yeah, it felt good. It was nice,” Donaldson said of his impressive homer. “I’ve been putting in a lot of work, a lot of time. Tulo and I stayed here until probably 12:30-1 o’clock [Tuesday morning] working on some things and today it paid off, it showed up a little bit.”
Taking Donaldson’s lead, Bautista then followed suit, landing one in the second deck in left for a 3-2 Toronto lead – but the power play was not yet over.
With two out, Russell Martin launched his fifth of the year, also to left, to make it 4-2.
That took Happ off the hook. He did not return for the fifth inning for precautionary reasons, having thrown 81 pitches, allowing two of the Reds’ runs off three hits.
The Reds got one back in the seventh to tie it up, when Jose Peraza was cashed from third base on a single to left by the speedy Billy Hamilton, with Toronto reliever Ryan Tepera on the mound.
Wednesday will mark the final game of the series against the Reds, with a 12:37 p.m. start time. After that, the Blue Jays will welcome the New York Yankees on Thursday for the start of a key four-game tilt against the club that currently occupies first place in the A.L. East.
The Blue Jays will welcome back another injured starter for the New York series, with Gibbons confirming that Francisco Liriano, who has been out since May 10 with left-shoulder issues, will take the mound on Friday.
When that happens, the Blue Jays will have all but Aaron Sanchez back in place in the five-member rotation that the club began the season with.
Sanchez, who has been besieged with blister and fingernail issues to his right hand, has been on the disabled list since May 20. There are still no plans in place for his return.
“Not until that finger’s healed,” Gibbons said. “I don’t think that’s too far off, though.”Report Typo/Error
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