ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.– Before he managed his first game for the Blue Jays – heck, before he even held a practice with this young team – Charlie Montoyo vowed one thing.
That his team would play hard, no matter the circumstances and struggles.
So when outfielder Randal Grichuk lost a ball in the roof at Tropicana Field on Tuesday night, the manager was inclined to let it pass, given the poor visuals in the awkward stadium.
What he couldn’t let up on, however – initially, anyway – was Grichuk’s laggardly effort in running down the ball.
As the right fielder gave chase, Rays designated hitter Avisail Garcia huffed his way around the bases for an inside-the-park homer. Sure, it was only one run, and in the third inning early enough to be negated, but it stood up as the game winner in a 3-1 Rays victory.
The good news, such as it is, is that Montoyo saw what anyone watching the game did as well and approached Grichuk in the dugout looking for an answer. The no-doubt watered-down version was a bit of a head scratcher, however.
“I talked to him when he came back because it looked like he didn’t go all out for that ball,” Montoyo said of Grichuk, who was signed to a five-year, $52-million US contract extension in April. “He said he got disoriented and he said he felt like ‘what’s going on?’
“I believe the guy. It kind of surprised me a bit.”
It surprised the few people in the stands for this one as well, giving the Rays a 2-0 lead at the time and doing little to help starting pitcher Clayton Richard and a beleaguered Toronto bullpen.
The loss and the way it went down continued the ugliness for a Jays team that has lost six of its past seven and since April 30 are 7-30. They are a season-worst 13 games under .500 now and on pace to lose 100 games, a projection worst than even the gloomiest pre-season predictions.
A half-inning after Grichuk’s miscue, it was the offence’s turn to sputter. A Justin Smoak single was followed by a Rowdy Tellez double in the top half and with nobody out, the Jays had runners on second and third.
What followed is the frustrating offence that has dogged them thus far this season – a meek Grichuk popup followed by a meek Lourdes Gurriel Jr. groundout and an ugly Brandon Drury strikeout.
– The crowd of 5,786 was the smallest ever for a Rays game at the flop that is the Trop. Of course with a home team that is now 33-19, that’s downright embarrassing.
-The loss guaranteed another series loss for the Jays, who are just 2-9 at Tropicana Field over the past two seasons.
With yet another abbreviated start due to a finger issue, is it time for starter Aaron Sanchez to take a break, even if it doesn’t require a trip to the injured list?
It may be getting to that point.
Montoyo acknowledged as much on Tuesday though he seems willing to wait it out for another start, presuming Sanchez is healthy enough. The hard-luck right-hander lasted just three innings here on Monday after tearing the nail on his middle finger. It’s at least the third time this season that Sanchez has been hampered during a game.
Sanchez vows he won’t miss any time but for now, it’s up in the air. He’s scheduled to throw a side session on Thursday or Friday in Denver after which the medical and coaching staff will decide the next move.
“It’s tough to tell a kid who wants to pitch, who wants to keep going, to take a break,” Montoyo said. “When he’s healthy, he pitches really good. But it does keep happening.
“Maybe one more start (and then) ‘okay Sanchez’,” Montoyo said. “We’ll give him one more shot.”
Injuries and the rampant flu bug that has sacked the team for the past handful of days made for some creative roster sculpting from the manager for Tuesday’s second of three against the Rays.
Rookie Cavan Biggio was originally in the lineup but was in rough shape when he arrived at the Trop and sent back to sick bay/team hotel. With that move, Drury got the start at shortstop, his fifth defensive position this season (27 games at third, 10 at second, nine in right field and two in left.) Eric Sogard took over at second while Freddy Galvis was given a scheduled night off.
Montoyo wants no part of messing with the mind of former shortstop Gurriel, who is minding business out in left.
“I like the way Gurriel is playing in the outfield for now so I want to leave him there,” Montoyo said. “He’s feeling comfortable. And Drury has got good hands so he can play anywhere.”
BORUCKI’S BACK (SORT OF)
The Jays saw a familiar face when left handed pitcher Ryan Borucki dropped by to renew acquaintances and update folks on his progress recovering from elbow inflammation.
“Obviously it’s been frustrating but I’m a big believer in rolling with the punches and keeping on going,” said Borucki, who had a big spring training and earned a spot in the Jays rotation. “I just want to play again. that’s the biggest thing. I just love competing.
“That was the toughest part for me, not being able to strap up every fifth day and just being in a clubhouse and the dugout with the boys talking.”
The good news is that Borucki, who was placed on the injured list days before the season began, is that he’s meticulously working towards a return. He’s scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Friday and then keep progressing towards a return a month or so down the road.
“Today is the first day I really let it eat,” Borucki said of how his arm feels. “I was throwing 120 (feet) long toss and 10 or 15 as hard as I could, but everything felt really good.”
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