With a day’s rest and the second best April in club history behind them the Rays play host to the Toronto Blue Jays for a three game series starting today. The Rays will welcome back Evan Longoria, out since the second game of the season with a strained oblique, while the Jays may be without their top hitter, Jose Bautista, who is day-to-day with a sore neck.
The Rays took the first series in Toronto 2-1 after losing the series opener. The Jays new manager John Farrell has brought a more aggressive game plan to the Blue Jays, mimicking the Rays success by attacking the bases and keeping opposing pitchers nervous. So far it shows; the Blue Jays are third in the majors and second in the American League in stolen bases with 33, two ahead of the Rays who are right behind them with 31.
This week I teamed up with our FanSided Toronto Blue Jays affiliate, Jays Journal and staff writer Jared MacDonald for a preview of the upcoming series.
Wade Davis – 3-2, 2.73 ERA vs Jo Jo Reyes
Davis has met the expectations of the Rays organization so far this year. While not a strikeout pitcher, Davis has good control and induces groundballs. He is 2-1 versus the Blue Jays with a 2.49 ERA
In what could very well be Reyes’ final start in a Blue Jays uniform, he faces the Rays after allowing six unearned runs in a season low 2.2 innings against the Rangers on Wednesday. John Farrell has stressed that this start is very important in deciding Reyes’ future with the team, given his struggles in virtually every start for the Jays so far this season. Reyes has not received a win in a Major League start in 23 consecutive starts dating back to June 13, 2008. He has never pitched at Tropicana Field in his career, and he allowed four earned runs in seven innings in his only career start against the Rays last month.
Jeremy Hellickson – 2-2, 4.31 ERA vs Brandon Morrow
Hellickson has had an up-and-down season so far this year, but that is to be expected considering he celebrated his 24th birthday on April 8th and has a grand total of 14 starts in the majors. In his last start against the Blue Jays on April 22nd he aquitted himself well, going seven innings while allowing three runs and six hits while striking out six Jays in a no decision.
Making his second start of the season following a stint on the DL to open the campaign, Morrow tossed six innings of two-run ball in Texas. He managed six strikeouts on the team that strikes out the least in the American League, and continued to find his footing as he continues to get more starts under his belt. His other start of the season was against the Rays back at Rogers Centre, when he allowed three earned runs in 5.1 innings with 10 strikeouts. In three career games at Tropicana Field (2 starts), Morrow is 0-1 with a 2.84 ERA, 10 walks, and 12 strikeouts in 12.2 innings
Jeff Niemann – 1-3, 5.60 ERA vs Ricky Romero
Alex Cobb‘s recent start may have been a warning shot across Niemann’s bow. He has struggled early in the season and dropped his first three games before finally getting his first win against Minnesota. Niemann will need to pitch like he did against the Twins, allowing only two hits and one earned run. The good news is he doesn’t give up a lot of free passes; he’s walked only seven batters in his first four games. He’ll need to continue to reduce the hits with Toronto’s aggressive new mantra on the base paths.
Like Morrow in his last start, Romero pitched six innings of two-run ball in his previous outing, but his was against New York at Yankee Stadium. He snapped a personal three-game losing streak despite pitching well over that span, and earned his second win of the season. Romero allowed just two earned runs in seven innings with a season-high ten strikeouts in his start against the Rays at Rogers Centre on April 24. In three career starts at Tropicana Field, Romero is 1-1 with a 4.43 ERA, 12 walks, and 14 strikeouts in 20.1 innings.
Ben Zobrist caught fire at the end of April, powering the Rays to a grand finish and a winning record by month’s end. In the final week of the season he mashed four home runs and drove in 18 while raising his batting average from .187 to .260. It’s good to see Zorilla back and terrorizing opposing pitchers. With Longoria expected back for the series opener the Rays offense could get fierce.
Aided by a four-game series in perhaps his favorite ballpark to hit in, Adam Lind has managed a .366/.378/.707 slash line over his last ten games, seven of which have been on the road. Over that time, he has hit safely in nine of the ten games, including two doubles, four home runs, and 13 RBIs. Out of the 27 games he has played this season, Lind has managed a hit in 20 of them.
Super Sam Fuld has apparently stumbled across some Kryptonite. The last time he met the Blue Jays he was sporting a .366 BA and promptly stole three bases in the series. Since then his average has dropped by over 80 points and he hasn’t stolen a base. Fuld isn’t in danger of losing his job at this point as he still makes the game exciting with his balls-to-the-walls aggresive style of play that has made him a fan favorite, but he has scuffled lately.
After his “torrid” start to the season where he went 6-for-13 (.462) at the plate with a double and three walks in his first six games, Johnny Mac has cooled right off at the plate since. Dating back to April 13 – a span of 14 games – McDonald has managed just a .159 average (7-for-44), .196 on-base percentage, and .273 slugging percentage. He’s never been known for his offensive output, though, and it could improve if he sees more playing time at third base when Aaron Hill returns from the DL.
+ Injury Update
Evan Longoria (15-day DL, strained oblique) is expected back for the series. In a short rehab stint with the Rays’ AA affiliate, the Montgomery Biscuits, Longoria collected five hits in 15 at bats. Three of those hits were home runs, signaling a healthy return for the team’s leader.
J.P. Howell (15-day DL, left shoulder surgery)
Howell has started his rehab with extended spring training with the Rays high-A affiliate Charlotte Stone Crabs. He’s faced eight batters in two innings, striking out two and allowing no runs on one hit and one base on balls. If all goes well Howell could rejoin the team some time in May.
Day-to-day: Jose Bautista (Neck tightness)
15-day DL: OF Scott Podsednik (plantar fasciitis in left foot)
Six Pack of Questions with Jared MacDonald, JaysJournal
Ben: What gives with the recent demotion of uber-prospect Travis Snider? Do the Jays really think he’d be better served (or the team for that matter) “working on his swing” in the minors versus battling through it in the bigs? I mean, it’s not like Juan Rivera or Corey Patterson are being considered as building blocks, right?
Jared: Snider’s demotion is very frustrating for the majority of Jays fans. He had a slow start in 2009, was sent to the minors and was called back up to the Jays after posting a 1.094 OPS and .337 average in 48 games. This year, it was well publicized that no matter how much Snider struggled, the Jays were committed to him and he could relax without having to worry about being sent back down to the minors if he struggled.
While he certainly looked lost against offspeed pitches in his first few weeks of the season, Snider’s confidence will surely take a hit as a result of this move and, as you pointed out, for who? Juan Rivera and Corey Patterson? Snider has never raked at the Major League level for a long period of time and lived up to his star-prospect status yet, which isn’t worrisome considering he’s still only 23. Hopefully he continues to mash down in Triple-A and is back up with the Jays in no time.
Ben: Speaking of developing players, I’m pretty sure the Blue Jays can find someone in their farm system better than Jo Jo Reyes and his career 6.30 ERA and 1.69 WHIP. Brett Cecil at his worst is probably a better option, and Deck McGuire might not need much time in the minors. What is the mindset moving forward for the Jays management?
Jared: Tonight marks a very important start for Reyes, as he could very well pitch himself out of the rotation – or even the organization – should he not do so well. The Jays are likely operating on a start-by-start basis with Reyes right now, so if he pitches well they’ll keep throwing him out on the mound every fifth day, but it’s likelier he will falter and management will look to replace him.
Deck McGuire is still a ways away from the Majors at HiA Dunedin, but a likely possibility would be 26-year-old left-hander Brad Mills, who has never really pitched well in the Major Leagues, but is currently leading the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s with 33 innings pitched and a 2.18 ERA in five starts.
Ben: The Jays have decided to adopt a more aggressive strategy on the base paths. Are they emulating the Rays success in this regard? How are fans handling it, since they’ve also been caught frequently?
Jared: When the Jays brought on John Farrell as manager this offseason, one of the refreshing philosophies he brought with him was being more active on the base paths. This idea was also helped when the Jays acquired Rajai Davis from the A’s and signed Corey Patterson to a minor league deal. The Jays have also been getting stolen bases out of unexpected sources, like Travis Snider and Jose Bautista.
Fans are definitely buying into the idea Farrell has instilled on the team, as it has been years since we’ve even seen a double steal attempted in Toronto. That being said though, while the Jays rank second in the AL with 33 stolen bases, they also rank third after being caught ten times, good for a 77% overall success rate. It’s still early in the season, but hopefully the Jays exercise a bit more caution in swiping bags in the coming months.
Jared - With all of the hype surrounding “The Legend of Sam Fuld”, what are your personal thoughts on his play, and do you see him sticking for the entire season?
Ben - Fuld is a fun player full of hustle and a breath of fresh air. I expect he will end the season hitting around .280 and 30 or more stolen bases. His defense means he’ll also likely spend at least one stint on the DL. But he’s a gamer and the Rays love him, especially Joe Maddon. His emergence couldn’t have happened at a better time; right around the time that Manny decided to go out like Manny…a big let down.
Jared - With Alex Cobb being sent back down to Triple-A Durham recently, do you see him making another appearance with the Rays before the rosters expand in September?
Ben - I’m a big fan of Cobb’s. I’d written about his rise through the Rays farm system on April 20th and was pleasantly surprised when the Rays called him up for a spot start. I am pretty sure they wanted to see what he had to offer in case they needed another arm at some point this season and he didn’t do to bad considering. They sent him back to continue to get steady work, but I think he was also a wake up call for a couple struggling pitchers. It was a smart move and it either tipped their hand or they were showcasing him for potential trade bait.
Jared - The Rays’ bullpen was drastically overhauled this offseason, but it’s looking good so far this season, led by Farnsworth at the back end. Who, to you, has been the most impressive out of the Rays’ new-look bullpen?
Ben - Farnsworth by far. He’s closed five out of six opportunities while doing a great job keeping the ball in the park. He doesn’t strike out players like most good closers will and I’m certain we’ll see him regress from his current 0.90 ERA and 0.70 WHIP, but he’s been exactly what the team wanted him to be and he’s still not been anointed the closer. I often wonder if that’s on purpose…a way for Maddon to keep the pressure off his often mercurial reliever.