Tuesday seemed like a dark day, one in which the club announced Jose Bautista was gone for the season with the correct decision to have surgery on his left wrist. And a day in which MLB announced a 50-game suspension to one of the Jays’ top prospects, right-hander Marcus Stroman, who tested positive for the banned stimulant Methylhexaneamine.
But thankfully for manager John Farrell, on the field at Yankee Stadium there were some positives. The biggest was that left-hander Ricky Romero stepped onto the mound, after one of his worst starts of the year in Detroit, and pitched well. Even though he was hit with his 11th loss in his past 12 starts, Romero took a step forward, allowing two runs in seven innings.
“Hopefully I build some consistency off of this one,” Romero said. “The best I can do now is just finish the season strong. I’ve been working hard all week. Everyone’s been helping me out. I felt like I was consistent. The biggest thing is strike one. When I’m ahead, I know I’m as good as anyone.
“The only thing is losing . . . it sucks.”
A factor may have been Romero pitching on his seventh day. That’s two extra days’ rest during the dog days of the season when pitchers have a tendency to get worn down. In fact, this season Romero has pitched better with extra rest. In games on his regular fifth day, the Jays’ ace has a record of 3-8 with a 6.20 ERA.
“I felt aggressive, I definitely did,” Romero said. “Everything that I worked on, I just let it come natural. I’m the kind of guy that likes to pitch every fifth day. Obviously extra rest, you can never complain about that, but at the same time, you’re a starter in this league and you’ve got to be able to be ready every fifth day. That’s the way I prepare.”
Romero worked seven innings and left trailing by a run. He allowed two runs on five hits with two walks and six strikeouts.
However, it’s the type of small-blessing baseball Toronto fans are going to have to get used to the final month of the season. Now that their main man on offence, Bautista, is out for the season and third baseman Brett Lawrie is showing little progress toward a return, there is no other option than to go with the inexperience of youth and allow them to learn on the job, however painfully.
“These are opportunities for Adeiny (Hechavarria) and for Moises (Sierra) to be in this environment, playing for this team,” Farrell said of the confidence he is going to show in his young prospects. “These are heightened situations where you get to see how they respond, late in the game with the game on the line, either at the plate or in the field defensively.”
For shortstop Hechavarria it was a night of mixed results. In the third inning, he fielded a ball toward the third base line off the bat of Ichiro Suzuki. Hechavarria turned and looked toward second base but, with Jayson Nix on the move, he had no play. By the time he looked back at first, the speedy Ichiro was safe. Next time he likely won’t make that same mistake, but it cost them as Nick Swisher singled home the game’s first run.
In the fifth inning, down by two, Hechavarria stepped in and slammed a 1-2 pitch to the opposite field against Phil Hughes for his first career home run. Bautista’s fill-in Sierra banged out two more hits to lift his average to .294.
“The biggest thing is they come out and play the game the right way,” Romero said. “It’s tough to come into this league and dominate. We’ve seen flashes of what Hech can do, we’ve seen flashes of what Moises can do. They’re both very young and talented and the future of this Blue Jay team. The way they’ve come ready to play every day has stuck with me the most. The biggest thing is they keep their mouths shut and they just come and get to work.”
On Monday, Colby Rasmus stepped in with two outs in the ninth, trailing by two and slammed a three-run homer off closer Rafael Soriano. The next night, with runners on first and third, one out and trailing by one, Rasmus strayed too far on a soft line drive to Robinson Cano and was doubled off third. It’s a fundamental of base-running — you freeze on a line drive if you’re on third. You’re going to score if it touches grass.
“I think we need to follow up every night with a solid effort,” Farrell said. “Every day is important. Not only the guys that have been here all year, but the guys that have come up and stepped in for other players. They have an opportunity to go out and, I won’t say make a statement, but they have the ability to impact a game, to impact their overall evaluation.”
The Jays play Wednesday afternoon with the chance to win a series for the first time since taking one from Detroit back on July 27-29.
In the meantime, the Blue Jays will continue to count small blessings.