In the beginning there was Maicer Izturis. Before Melky Cabrera and Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey, Alex Anthopoulos gave a three-year, $10-million free-agent deal to the versatile, 32-year-old infielder who played in 759 games for the not-easily impressed Mike Scioscia either at third base, second or shortstop, when he was with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
So there was something timely about Izturis' contribution in the shortstop's spot in Monday's 2-0 Toronto Blue Jays win over the Colorado Rockies at the Rogers Centre – a sliding stop and sure throw to first on a ball bounced up the middle with a runner on second and two outs in a scoreless fifth inning; a lashed, opposite-field single to break up Jorge Da La Rosa's no-hit bid and a two-run, bloop single in the eighth inning that delivered the Blue Jays sixth consecutive win on as night when Josh Johnson struck out a season-high 10 batters.
With Jose Reyes now playing in Single-A games in Dunedin and achingly close to a return next week, the Blue Jays have a difficult decision to make: send out somebody from an eight-man bullpen that has emerged as a bulwark, or tie the can to an infielder like Munenori Kawasaki. Buffalo is calling for someone – but who gets to answer the Triple-A bell?
Manager John Gibbons did not want to go there before the first game of a three-game inter-league series in front of a crowd of 20,946. And why should he? There are several elements that will go into the decision – such as remaining options, salary, and favors owed to agents – but what will likely work against Kawasaki is that his best position is the one that Reyes will fill.
Kawasaki won't be a late-inning defensive replacement for Reyes, and nobody wants to see a steady dose of his uncertain throws from second or third – not that he would supplant Edwin Encarnacion at the latter position as long as Gibbons decides first base is the way he wants to keep Adam Lind's bat in the lineup. His best skill is that he can work a pitcher, but will that be enough to stick around?
Mark De Rosa and Izturis have some pop and can better play multiple positions; Bonifacio can play the outfield. Kawasaki became a favourite among the fan-base when nothing else seemed to be going right but that, too, won't matter in the final analysis.
"He's showed more range in the field, lately," Gibbons said about Izturis, who hit .308 on the Blue Jays six-game road trip. "He's started to settle in a bit."
Going into the regular season, there were people around the Blue Jays who believed that it would be Izturis, more than Bonifacio or Reyes, who would have difficulty picking up the spin and speed of the ball off the Rogers Centre's artificial turf. Izturis is older, and doesn't have the same athleticism. But he and Bonifacio, in particular, have been markedly better since a crash course with Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar earlier in the season.
Monday night's game was precisely the kind of game the Blue Jays would have lost earlier in the season. De La Rosa limited them to a pair of walks through five innings before Izturis broke up the no-hitter with one out in the sixth – the second time this season that the Rockies lefthander took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. More to the point, when the Blue Jays did make hard contact it was directly at a Rockies player.
Izturis' bloop came off Matt Belisle (4-4) and made a winner of Brett Cecil (3-0), who saw a streak of consecutive batters retired end at 25 when he intentionally walked Michael Cuddyer and his 15-game hitting streak with runners in scoring position. In a mammoth vote of confidence from Gibbons, Cecil came in to face Carlos Gonzalez, the first National League player to reach the 20-home run plateau and who had seven extra-base hits in his previous six games – and Gonzalez hit a screaming liner into the glove of Lind at first.
Johnson was a beast. Pushed back two days because to allow a blister on his right middle finger to heal, he limited the Rockies to five hits and walked two in 7 1/3 innings. His slider was particularly effective, he said, "mostly because I just let it go, instead of trying to force it to move." It has been a frustrating season for Johnson, widely-touted going into the season as one of the picks of this winter's free-agent crop yet who has made all of seven starts due to right triceps inflammation. "Everything has seemed to be a little bit off," he said.
"He needed that," Gibbons said.
He had company.