OAKLAND—There was a natural second-guessing when Blue Jays’ manager John Gibbons announced his starting rotation emerging from the all-star break. His best pitcher, left-hander Mark Buehrle, was being skipped in three games against the Rays at home. Buehrle hadn’t pitched until the opening game against the A’s, giving him nine days between starts for the third time in his career and the first time since 2007. Ultimately, the decision proved wise as the Jays are 3-1 since the break.
The 36-year-old Buehrle has made nine straight starts without allowing more than two earned runs, going 5-1 in that stretch. He has pitched 29 consecutive innings without issuing a base-on-balls, facing 115 hitters. His last walk was June 26 to Elvis Andrus of the Rangers. Buehrle sometimes frustrates himself with his aversion to walking batters. On Tuesday, he went to a full count on left fielder Jake Smolinski, who then drove a triple for Oakland’s only run. The streak remained.
“I probably should have made more of a quality pitch and if I did walk him, it would be first and second and have a chance for a ground ball double-play,” Buehrle said. Instead, I hate walking guys and I tried not to give in and make him put the ball in play and he hits a triple. Sometimes I get myself in trouble by doing that, but I get so frustrated when I walk guys, I make him get on base by a hit or putting the ball in play and see what happens.”
Another Jays veteran, 34-year-old Jose Bautista, made statistical club history Tuesday. Bautista homered in the sixth inning to give the Jays a 3-0 lead. It was his 20th home run, a total he has reached for six straight seasons. Only Carlos Delgado (9) and Joe Carter (7) have had as many consecutive 20-homer seasons as Jays. He also tied Vernon Wells for second on the club’s all-time home run list with 223. Delgado leads with 336. Bautista talked about his place in franchise history.
“That’s awesome because I really came here from a shaky situation in Pittsburgh and I was given an opportunity and everybody embraced me and welcomed me here,” Bautista said. “I’ve always been appreciative and try to remind people that I’m really thankful for that.
“I have lot to thank to Alex (Anthopoulos) himself, also Cito Gaston and Dwayne Murphy, so I’ll never forget that. That’s one of the other things that will always keep you humble, because this game can change quickly and dramatically. I haven’t forgotten those days when I went from a good situation to a bad one in Pittsburgh, quickly, and then ended up here. Again, I was fortunate to get a second chance and was able to take it and run with it.”
The Coliseum at night is usually a graveyard for deep fly balls, with the heavy, damp air as a deterrent, but the Jays managed three homers in the game, with Edwin Encarnacion and Russell Martin joining Bautista’s bomb. The Jays have hit three or more homers 10 times in 2015.
“That’s rare here,” Gibbons observed. “At nighttime you don’t see many home runs, but that’s what we do. We’ve got some guys that have a lot of power, so when they catch it right it’s going a long way. But you won’t find that too often.”
In essence, the night belonged to Josh Donaldson and his return to the Bay Area where he had first established himself as a hard-nosed, blue-collar fan favourite. He started the game slowly, clearly emotional and over-amped as he made a throwing error and was hitless in his first two at-bats. His first appearance was greeted by a standing ovation. He finished up with two doubles and an RBI.
“I probably got a little bit more comfortable as the game went on,” Donaldson admitted. “Early in the game I was a little amped up. I think that’s kind of natural. But that being said, my teammates did a great job putting together some innings and scoring some runs. Buehrle did his thing out there and put up a lot of zeroes. I’d have to say it was emotional. It’s unfamiliar territory and I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was very grateful on how they treated me today.”
In the meantime, the Jays made a couple of moves off the field aimed at improving the inconsistent bullpen. In Buffalo, Aaron Sanchez finally made his season debut as a reliever, pitching one uneven inning, allowing an infield hit, two walks and two unearned runs, but emerging healthy, which is the key. That decision to bring Sanchez back as a reliever was announced Sunday.
“I think there was probably some talk what his best role was, even early in the season as a starter,” Gibbons said. “Then all of a sudden, he really started coming on (as a starter). He was very reliable. Of course in the back of your mind, we tried to stretch him to a complete game the day he got injured. You’ve got to be conscious of that. If that’s the case, what is he, a 5-6 inning guy?
“My thinking was we really strengthen one area and then we’re in that position where maybe we can close out some games much easier. This is nothing against anybody else out in that room, but you watch what Sanchy did last year and you watch what (Roberto) Osuna’s done and (Bo) Schultz and it’s definitely a different look.”
The second bullpen item for the Jays was the signing on Tuesday to a minor-league contract of right-hander Joba Chamberlain, released earlier in the month by the Tigers. The 29-year-old former Yankee was 0-2, with a 4.09 ERA, appearing in 30 games for Detroit.
It was a tale of two seasons for Chamberlain, who has been in the majors since he was 21 years old. Over his first 23 games of 2015, he posted a 1.06 ERA, but after that, from June 16 to July 2 in his final seven appearances, he allowed eight earned runs in five innings, on 12 hits, with two walks and four strikeouts. This is the real Joba. He will be assigned to the AAA-Buffalo Bisons.
The Jays victory was over right-hander Kendall Graveman, who was included in the off-season trade for Donaldson, along with third baseman Brett Lawrie, left-hander Sean Nolin and minor-league shortstop Franklin Barreto. Speaking of Donaldson’s return, the last word belonged to Gibbons.
“Donaldson said to me last night on the bus, ‘You know this is my town,’” Gibbons recounted. “I looked outside and said, ‘Glad it’s yours and not mine.’”