It was just Game 1 of 162 so why not start with a glass half full look at the Blue Jays opening day loss before a sleepy non-sellout crowd at the Rogers Centre.
Pitcher Marcus Stroman was borderline brilliant in allowing two hits over seven shutout innings against the Detroit Tigers, thereby getting an early bump to his potential trade value.
Unfortunately, Detroit Tigers starter Jordan Zimmerman was dealing as well, taking a perfect game deep into the late afternoon until Teoscar Hernandez ended that potential drama with a two-out, infield single in the seventh inning.
A game between two teams setting up for long, unsuccessful seasons had to have a winner and the way the Tigers swiped a 2-0 extra-inning win wasn’t pretty.
Sure, the Jays got to the 10th without allowing a run but the lack of bullpen depth was immediately exposed.
Daniel Hudson, acquired out of desperation on the weekend, showed why the Angels released him last week.
A double to Niko Goodrum followed by a Christin Stewart two-run homer allowed the Tigers to put up the only runs of the game.
Continuing with the ominous part of the program, it was the third consecutive opening day loss for the Jays, the first time they could make that claim since 1984-86. It was also extended the rebuilding team’s club record losing streak for its home opener to eight years.
And in so doing, it spoiled the big-league managerial debut of Charlie Montoyo.
This promises (threatens?) to be a long slog for the Jays as the shine of opening day will disappear from the dome for the remainder of the seven-game home stand to start the season.
The announced crowd of 45,048 seemed to be an optimistic calculation and even with that it was the lowest opening day gathering for the Jays since 2000. The attendance drop off is in full force, folks, and will only get worse.
In many ways the Jays fan base that blossomed over the past decade learned to appreciate good baseball things. On Thursday, there was a sense that they were here because it’s something you do if you are a sports fan and perhaps to snag the giveaway free t-shirt.
The applause during player introductions was mild at best, with pitcher Aaron Sanchez the only one of the non starters to get any type of reaction. Even as Stroman did his thing there was barely a smattering of applause when his no-hitter was erased by a Jeimer Candelario single up the middle in the seventh.
Justifiably, the fans are in a “show me” phase, not completely sold on the major rebuild under way and certainly not willing to support the venture until there is tangible evidence of a competitive product.
Still, opening day is opening day and it was certainly a special one for Montoyo, the first-year skipper who replaced John Gibbons to become the team’s 13th manager.
“Nobody in there is thinking about rebuilding,” Montoyo said of the Jays clubhouse. “Everybody’s ready to win games. And again, I heard that word last year with the Rays and they won 90 games.”
Stroman breezed through the first three innings with some help from solid defence in each of them.
In the first, it was a Freddy Galvis to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to Justin Smoak double play to erase a leadoff walk (on four consecutive pitches) to the Tigers’ Josh Harrison. Next up, Danny Jansen added to the memories of his first opening day by gunning down Goodrum in his attempted steal of second. Smooth-fielding Galvis applied the tag on that. And in the third, a loud Jody Mercer fly ball to deep centre was snagged at the wall by Kevin Pillar. Montoyo on Stroman: “He looks like the guy I saw two years ago. He’s throwing harder again.”
WHERE’S THE RELIEF?
The Jays figure to be a hard-working, hard-playing team and that should account for something among the fans and perhaps even in the won-loss column.
There are, however, some glaring holes. Perhaps none bigger than the current state of the bullpen.
When asked who would be the set-up man for closer Ken Giles (on those occasions the Jays need a closer), Montoyo was brutally honest.
“Right now, we’ll see,” Montoyo said. “We don’t know who is going to pitch in the eighth yet. If the game’s on the line in the sixth inning, it can be (Joe) Biagini. It depends where we are in the game.”
A couple of Montoyo’s bullpen arms took care of the issue for one day, anyway. Biagini did indeed come in for the eighth and struck out the side and was followed by closer Ken Giles, who did the same.
All that did was set the stage for Hudson to burn it down.
WHAT ABOUT VLAD?
Who knows, perhaps the crowd would have been more into the proceedings if the great hope for the future, Vlad Guerrero Jr., was in the lineup.
The sliver of good news to that end is that the just-turned 20-year-old is moving along quickly in recovering from an oblique strain suffered during spring training.
“He’s coming along great,” general manager Ross Atkins said Thursday. “He’ll actually be playing in games this weekend.
“We’re moving that timeline as quickly as we possibly can to make him an option.”
Atkins said that Guerrero will remain in Dunedin for extended pre-season action and then will either graduate to Buffalo or remain in Florida depending on how he progresses, as well as the weather.
FRESH NEW FACES
Not only were there a number of new Jays in Montoyo’s lineup on Friday, there were a number of players who were experiencing their first big league opening day.
No less than nine on the Toronto roster fell into that category, a list that includes Rowdy Tellez (DH), Jansen (catcher), Sunday’s starter, Trent Thornton, relievers Elvis Luciano, Thomas Pannone and Tim Mayza, middle infielders Richard Urena and Gurriel and right fielder Hernandez. Further evidence of the upheaval following the Wednesday night trade of DH Kendrys Morales, only three Jays players were on last season’s opening day lineup: Outfielders Pillar and Randal Grichuk and first baseman Smoak. Pillar was on the past four opening day lines, the only Jays player who could make that claim.
By Rob Longley
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019