Matt Shoemaker sets the standard for Blue Jays starters in first intrasquad game

It was the Blue Jays against the Blue Jays on Thursday in the first game the Rogers Centre has hosted since the end of last season.

Matt Shoemaker went head to head with a long list of “opposing” pitchers in a game that lasted less than two hours, as batters hit and fielded for both sides, all in their familiar royal blue jerseys. Bo Bichette and Rowdy Tellez both homered in front of the empty stands, the crack of the bat ringing louder than usual with so few people in the building.

They will be at it again on Friday at 6 p.m., with manager Charlie Montoyo expecting to play intrasquad games daily for as long as summer training camp in Toronto lasts. A pair of next week’s games, on Tuesday and Wednesday, will be broadcast on Sportsnet starting at 6:30 p.m.

Here’s a look at what happened on Thursday:

  • Shoemaker throws 60 pitches: Montoyo doesn’t expect all of his starters to be able to build up to five or six innings by the start of the season but veteran right-hander Matt Shoemaker may be ahead of the curve .

“He deserves a lot of credit. These past three months he was throwing the whole time and staying in shape. That’s why he’s able to go five innings today,” Montoyo said before the game.

Shoemaker, who went 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA in five starts for the Jays last season before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament, hit the threshold Toronto was looking for, throwing 42 strikes on 60 pitches. He gave up four hits, including those two homers, and struck out four.

“It’s great because he’s one of our leaders,” Montoyo said of the example Shoemaker is setting for the rest of the clubhouse.

  • Notable exceptions: At one point, infielder Andy Burns, catcher Riley Adams and bullpen coach Matt Buschmann made up Toronto’s outfield. While the Jays have not confirmed the names of the 12 players held back in Florida because of a positive COVID-19 test, some familiar faces, including right-fielder Randal Grichuk, did not make an appearance on Friday night. Toronto has broken the cohort here into two groups — one made up of mostly big-leaguers and the other with some younger players — so the Jays could be forced to find creative solutions for missing players for the time being.
  • On the sidelines: A group of onlookers made their presence known when Tellez went deep. Pitchers Nate Pearson, Ryan Borucki, Sean Reid-Foley, T.J. Zeuch, Jacob Waguespack and Jordan Romano were among a group watching the action. The bullpen is one area in particular where Montoyo said he is “starting fresh” in training camp.

Canadian Romano earned high praise from the manager. “If Romano keep throwing 97, 98, he’ll be on the list (of high-leverage reliever candidates),” Montoyo said.

  • Health and safety: Few players wore masks while on the field but there were strict protocols for media, invited to the ballpark for the first time on Thursday. Members of the media had their temperatures taken twice and were asked about 20 health-related questions on two separate intake forms. In the press box, reporters were assigned seats with six feet of distance between them.

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In other health and safety news, the extended netting protective netting the Jays announced last summer was in place.

  • Hype machine: They Jays are doing their best to recreate the atmosphere of a real game by playing at night, and by playing music, including players’ walk-up songs, during the intrasquad games.


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