October 4, 2012
The at-bat that did in the Blue Jays
By BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency
TORONTO - If there was one fateful pitch that ended any hopes the Toronto Blue Jays had this season it didn't come in June.
It wasn't the final pitch Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek or Drew Hutchison threw when all walked off the Rogers Centre mound in a four-game span.
And it wasn't one of Ricky Romero's 104 pitches on July 2, as he allowed eight runs on 11 hits and three walks in six innings.
It was the second of Romero's 15 consecutive winless outings (13 losses, two no decisions).
The end came July 16 at Yankee Stadium and the pitch was thrown by New York Yankees reliever David Robertson in the eighth inning with one out in a 2-2 tie. Jose Bautista swung at a 2-0 fastball pulling the ball home-run distance but oh, about eight sections shy of the foul pole in left.
Usually foul balls are lined over a dugout, fouled straight back or hook past the foul pole, they are not majestic blasts into an area souvenirs never land.
After watching the flight of the ball, the focus returned to home plate. There was the two-time defending major-league home-run champion on his knees outside the batter's box, grimacing, holding his left wrist.
Bautista destabilized a sheath housing a tendon in his left wrist.
Bautista was examined, was re-examined, had a series of MRIs, had five more at-bats the rest of the season after that night in New York: one walk, two strikeouts and a ton of pain.
Finally, after visiting with Dr. Thomas Graham in Cleveland at the end of August, he had season-ending, surgery Sept. 4.
When Bautista stepped in against Robertson, the Jays (45-44) sat 1 1/2 games behind the Baltimore Orioles (46-42) for the second wild-card spot in the American League.
He had 27 homers in his first 90 games, two more than after the same time span in 2010 and two shy of his total in 2011.
What if Bautista had remained healthy and hit say 45 homers to go along with Edwin Encarnacion's 42 homers?
• • •
Manager John Farrell's mantra starting at the winter meetings in Dallas was more quality innings from starters.
And for a time everyone was humming along.
The Jays starters sat third best in the American League on June 11 when it came to innings pitched (370) and ERA (3.96).
Morrow faced the Washington Nationals that night. After allowing a lead-off double to Steve Lombardozzi, Morrow threw a 1-1 pitch to Bryce Harper and it felt like he had been "stabbed in the side."
Morrow was gone six pitches into the game with an oblique strain.
Two games later, Drabek departed after 4 1/3 innings, his 83rd pitch of the night a fastball to Michael Morse caused a second Tommy John injury to his right elbow.
After a day off, the Jays sent Hutchison to the mound against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Hutchison strained his right elbow on a 1-1 pitch to Hunter Pence, walking off 12 pitches into the game.
A total of 101 pitches, three serious injuries, two which will carry over into 2013.
On June 24, we wrote about the best case/worst scenarios for the Jays trio:
Best case: 59 missed starts. Worst case: 115 or more.
Hutchison was told not to throw for 4-to-6 weeks and begin his rehab.
On his third session he experienced pain and underwent Tommy John surgery.
Morrow missed 13 starts and the trio has missed 52 ... and counting.
Drabek is hopeful of being back after the all-star break, while Hutchison may not pitch next season.
Morrow, Drabek and Hutchison were not to be confused with three Cy Young award winners ... but they were doing what Farrell wanted: the Jays were a combined 19-17 in games they started. Morrow was 7-4 record with a 3.01 ERA, Drabek was 4-7, 4.67 and Hutchison 5-3, 4.60.
• • •
Whither goest thou manager John Farrell?
Jays president Paul Beeston and general manager Alex Anthopoulos have a lot on their plate this winter.
They need players and if you go by the Billy Beane theory, hiring a new manager is like finding a new chair for the office.
Easy to replace.
We think managers are more than a piece of furniture. And have more impact. A good one might win four or five games, a bad one, Bill Virdon used to say, could cost a team 40 games.
Do the Jays make a deal to Boston where Farrell is regarded as part Terry Francona (pre last September), part Dick Williams and part Bill Carrigan?
One veteran described what's gone on this season as "appalling." He thinks Farrell's experiences in Boston under Francona were with a veteran team where David Ortiz or Dustin Pedroia would keep players in line.
"We don't have a grizzled veteran to tell people to 'Cut that out!' " said one player.
It could be continued base-running mistakes, or Yunel Escobar running Kelly Johnson and Omar Vizquel off pop ups, the magical mystery tours of Brett Lawrie on the bases, players meandering off the field and into the clubhouse before the end of batting practice, Escobar's eye black or Joel Carreno standing in the dugout talking on his cellphone half an hour before first pitch as he was before a game against the Minnesota Twins.
Told of Carreno being on the phone, another player defended the manager saying "He can't be everywhere."
After Lawrie gave his explanation for being thrown out at third attempting to advance on a grounder in front of him to Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias in a tie game in the eighth, closer Casey Janssen told Lawrie, "You learn that in Little League."
How much of the repeated offences are the players' responsibilities, how much is the manager's?
Should Farrell be fired?
We don't think so.
His manager's halo is a-kilter after Vizquel criticized him -- and Farrell's clubhouse meeting where he told the team that he was in charge.
Farrell was right to fire back at Vizquel, Hall-of-Fame credentials or not, but should a manager have to tell a team he's in charge, that he's the boss, with six games remaining?
The honeymoon period is over going back to the time the rookie manager "with a high ceiling" was hired.
It's unfair that the Jays bring him back next year on the final year of a three-year deal. If players are complaining now, what will they say about a manager on a one-year deal.
To be fair to Farrell, the Jays have to offer their manager an extension.
So, it's a case of trade or extend?
The blame on the Jays goes like one of those eight or nine mangled rundown plays: from Beeston, to Anthopoulos, to Farrell and to the players.
• • •
The Jays' mid-July trip to the Bronx was as rough as the one former New York Mets outfielder Bobby Bonilla promised a New York writer years ago.
The Jays were swept in the three-game series, outscored 18-4, lost No. 3 hitter Bautista in the opener with a tendon injury and lead-off man Lawrie in the final when he tumbled into the photographer's well.
Bautista and Lawrie missed 110 games.
Lawrie hit .278 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in his first 87 games.
Afterwards he hit .266 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 36 games.
Lawrie's best asset is his aggressiveness.
Lawrie's worst asset is his aggressiveness.
Will he learn to dial it down? Or be like an Eric Byrnes, who had a solid career with the Oakland A's, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Seattle Mariners and Baltimore Orioles with the nickname Crash Test Dummy.
Byrnes saw his career end after 11 seasons, earlier than projected.
The helmet toss which plunked plate ump Bill Miller in the hip after a called strike three for the second out of the ninth -- and charging an ump after his three-game suspension -- were explained as his aggressiveness.
Lawrie was thrown out trying to steal home with Bautista at the plate and thrown out trying to steal third for the third out with a left-handed hitter up.
He stole second, allowing the Red Sox to walk Encarnacion intentionally.
In all, Lawrie had been thrown out at second four times, twice at third and twice at home, plus he's run into six outs on bases -- whether he was doubled up, tried to take an extra base or been picked off.
Alejandro De Aza of the Chicago White Sox and Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays have each been thrown 19 times on the bases (attempting to steal or trying to advance) to lead the AL.
Lawrie is not the only one who has made the long walk to the third-base dugout at the Rogers Centre. Rajai Davis is tied with Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers for third with 18.
Then, come the Jays pairing of Colby Rasmus and Lawrie, each had a total of 14, giving the Jays three of the worst six base runners.
Is it because of the injuries the Jays took chances?
The Jays have been thrown out attempting to steal 41 times on the bases (fifth highest), three behind the Cleveland Indians and 64 times running the bases (second most), six behind the Los Angeles Angels.
• • •
Ed Lynch, former Chicago Cubs general manager and now a Blue Jays scout, was watching the Colorado Rockies-Los Angeles Dodgers series on the weekend ... looking for relief help for next year.
Yet, the main priority on the roster is the starting rotation, especially due to Romero starting out 8-1 and then going 15 decisions before he won his next game. Romero finished the season 9-14 with a 5.77 ERA, the highest of the 91 pitchers in the majors to qualify for the ERA title.
In 32 starts, the same as the previous two years, Romero walked a league-high 105 hitters while fanning 124 in 181 innings. A year ago, he worked 225 innings and two years ago 210 innings.
The Jays have Morrow (9-7, 3.09, going into the season finale), Henderson Alvarez (9-14, 4.85) and Romero for next year.
They need to spend, which Rogers Communications didn't do last season, to acquire a free-agent starter or deal for one ... or two.
• • •
We've read a few times how the Jays clubhouse needs veterans.
People who can come in and lead the young 'uns.
The last imported leader we remember around these parts was Dave Hollins, acquired from the Anaheim Angels on March 30, 1999 for Tomas Perez.
Jays manager Jim Fregosi rubbed his hands with glee in his office at Grant Field in Dunedin.
Finally he had a leader for his clubhouse.
Hollins had been one of the keys to the Philadelphia Phillies who battled Toronto in the 1993 World Series.
We remember telling Hollins what Fregosi expected from him.
"Is he serious? I don't even know where the batting cage is? I'm supposed to tell guys who have been here three or four years how to conduct themselves," asked Hollins.
After 27 games and 99 at-bats in which he had two homers and six RBIs, Hollins was released June 21.
Leaders are not imported, they come from within.
• • •
And one more makes 19 -- and counting.
It's been 19 seasons since Joe Carter homered off Mitch Williams to win the 1993 World Series, the last time the Jays were in post-season play.
The drought began with Pat Gillick as the general manager in 1994,
Gord Ash was GM for seven years, then J.P. Ricciardi ran the show for eight years -- and now this is Anthopoulos' third year.
Only the Pittsburgh Pirates, who lost to the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 NLCS, and Kansas City Royals, who beat the Jays in the ALCS in 1985, have had longer post-season droughts.
The Seattle Mariners (2001) are the only other team to be without a post-season appearance of more than 10 years.
The old refrain used to be -- "How on earth are we supposed to compete with the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox?"
We have an update from 1 Blue Jays Way -- "How on earth are we supposed to compete with the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles?"