TORONTO - It was a time of turmoil and change within the Toronto Blue Jays family, but at the end of the day they found some security in the one mighty bat they’ve come to rely on.
With Adam Lind banished to triple-A Las Vegas and Brett Lawrie banished to baseball prison for four days, the Jays lineup had a rather different look to it on Thursday. It even featured the first ever Brazilian to grace a major-league field -- and record a hit -- 24-year-old Yan Gomes.
But in Toronto's 4-1 win over the New York Yankees, Jose Bautista served notice that the Jays are still very much his team.
That’s not a statement that needs a lot of reinforcement.
The two-time defending home run king delivered all the runs the Jays would need this night with a third-inning homer, his fifth in the last seven games.
“If going deep five times in seven games isn’t locked in, then we’re in for a real treat if he’s yet to click in,” Jays manager John Farrell said.
Bautista later singled in the seventh and then breezed home ahead of J.P. Arencibia after the catcher hit his fifth homer of the year to seal the two-game series sweep the Rogers Centre.
If you’re counting, and we know you are, Bautista’s homer was his 10th of the season, hit on the two-year anniversary of his 11th home run of the 2010 season. He hit 54 of them that year, which is a roundabout way of saying that it's a bit too early for anyone else to be fitted for that home run crown.
“I knew I was close to that pace,” Bautista said. “But I’m not worried about the home runs. I need to contribute every day, get an RBI every game, though I doubt that’s possible.
“Most of all, I need to get on base.”
“The one thing that Jose continued to do, despite a slow start -- at least for him -- is he didn’t waver from his routine,” Farrell said. “While some frustration did emerge over the first three or four weeks of the season -- and we saw it at times, he would press a little bit -- getting back to addressing pitches in the strike zone allows him to stay relaxed and confident.
“When some balls started leaving the ballpark, he could step back, take a deep breath and relax a little bit and let his true abilities come out. That’s what’s happened in this 10-12 game stretch.”
Twenty-one year old Drew Hutchison, making his first start against the Yankees, improved his record to 3-1 after six starts and, once again, his unflappability was the most impressive weapon in his arsenal.
Hutchison pitched into, and out of, plenty of trouble throughout his six innings of work. He walked four batters, a few more than he or his manager would probably have liked, and allowed just four hits. The starter never gave in to a Yankee lineup that eats young pitchers for breakfast.
“If the game is speeding up on him mentally, he certainly doesn’t show it outwardly,” Farrell said. “Even with limited experience above A ball, one of the reasons we felt he could handle this environment was his poise and composure. He shows that every start because there has been traffic he’s had to pitch around. He does a good job of keeping the game under control.”
In the top of the first, with one out, Curtis Granderson worked Hutchison for a five-pitch walk. Two pitches later, Robinson Cano drilled a double to the wall in the left-centre field gap and Granderson scored all the way from first.
The score remained 1-0 until the bottom of the third when Yunel Escobar led off with a single. Bautista then looked at five consecutive pitches, the first three balls, then a pair of strikes. He fouled off the next two pitches, then deposited the eighth one of the at-bat over the wall into the Toronto bullpen to give the Jays and Hutchison a tenuous one-run advantage.
Hutchison walked a fine line all evening long, allowing at least two base runners in four of his first five innings, but only that first-inning score. The young starter has pitched into the sixth inning in every one of his starts so far this season. Three times he’s thrown five and this was his his third six-inning effort.
“I think I’ve thrown the ball pretty well,” Hutchison said. “I’ve battled. I think I’ve given our team a chance to win just about every time out. Our defence has been really good, making plays. But four walks, for the kind of pitcher I am, is kind of unacceptable and something I really need to address.”
Jason Frasor, Darren Oliver and Casey Janssen combined for three perfect innings of relief for the Jays. They were aided by some fine defensive work by Omar Vizquel who, as a defensive replacement for third baseman Gomes, made a diving stab of a hot liner in the eighth. Edwin Encarnacion followed with a good play down the line at first.