DETROIT - In the hours before the Toronto Blue Jays faced off against the Detroit Tigers, the question was which Zach Stewart would be on the mound for the Jays Monday night at Comerica Park.
Would it be the Stewart who handcuffed the Baltimore Orioles in his MLB debut, or the one who was kicked around by the Atlanta Braves last week?
Well, the rookie pitched just fine against the Tigers, thank you. The veteran Jays bullpen? Not so much.
Stewart handed over a tie ballgame to his relief corps after six innings, but the bullpen failed to hang on as the Tigers scored a pair in the eighth inning to win 4-2.
The defeat put an unpleasant punctuation mark on Toronto’s four-city, 10 game road trip, levelling their record on the trip at five wins, five losses.
Detroit's Jhonny Peralta’s RBI triple in the eighth off Toronto's Shawn Camp snapped the 2-2 tie and provided the difference in the game.
Camp got Peralta into a quick 0-2 hole, but Austin Jackson, pinch-running at first, then stole second. Peralta hit Camp's next pitch into the right-centre gap. Jose Bautista had a bead on it, then lost it briefly in the lights, just long enough for it to get under his glove after a dive.
"It was a tough moment for us," said Bautista. "It got in the lights. I tried to dive, just to block it, but it got past me.
"Right off the bat I knew I had a shot at it standing up. Halfway through the flight it got into the lights. I took about six or seven steps hoping it would come out. That's when I decided I had to slide to try to block it."
The Jays put runners at first and third with one out in the ninth, but Tiger closer Jose Valverde induced a double-play ball from pinch-hitter Juan Rivera to end it.
The Tigers got to Stewart for a run in the second on a single by Miguel Cabrera followed immediately by a ringing double to the wall in centre.
In the third, the Tigers combined three freakish singles to take a 2-0 lead. With two out, Brennan Boesch’s pool cue shot dribbled around the third base bag. Then Cabrera’s grounder up the middle went off Stewart’s glove, deflecting the ball out of Jays second baseman Aaron Hill’s reach. Martinez completed the bizarre sequence with a little dying quail into right field.
Toronto squared things in the fourth when Jose Bautista’s groundout cashed Eric Thames’ leadoff double and Adam Lind smacked his 16th homer, a rainbow to right field.
That’s the way it stayed until the bottom of the eighth. Detroit's Magglio Ordonez’s one-out single set the table. Pinch-runner Jackson stole second and then came all the way home on Peralta’s triple.
Peralta later scored on what could have been a double-play ball but Hill’s relay to first base failed to get Detroit's Ryan Raburn hustling down the line.
Stewart struggled early on with his control, falling behind multiple hitters especially in the second inning. Once he got through the hard-luck third inning, he cruised from there, allowing only two more baserunners the rest of the night.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland was tossed after an entertaining rant in the bottom of the seventh after the umpires reversed a call at first base that deprived Detroit of a baserunner. First-base ump Ed Hickox had originally called Andy Dirks safe, but he was clearly out and the home plate umpire, Alfonso Marquez, overruled him.
More auditions coming
The very fact that Jose Bautista has been asked to go back to third base says much about how far away Brett Lawrie is from a recovery and a call-up.
For Bautista, the move from the outfield to the infield involves getting reacquainted with all the nuances of the hot corner, including adjusting his throwing motion. It’s not something they would ask him to do if it was going to be a temporary two-week assignment.
Lawrie has a fractured bone in his left wrist, an injury sustained on the last day of May when a promotion to Toronto was imminent. Now, four weeks later, he still can’t grip a bat. Earlier expectations of a return to Las Vegas by mid-July are proving optimistic.
When he does get back into the Las Vegas lineup, because wrist injuries can be tricky, there is no certainty he will pick up at the torrid pace where he left off. He might not be available for a call-up until well into August, or even later. In the meantime, with Bautista at third, the Jays will be able to get a long look at Eric Thames and perhaps even Travis Snider or Adam Loewen in the outfield.
With the trade deadline just over a month away, the roster could undergo significant changes depending upon the trade opportunities that GM Alex Anthopoulos will be sifting through. He’ll be wanting to know more about the strong cast of players at Vegas and whether they are ready or not.