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Series-Closing Win Offers Optimism for Struggling Jays

Posted By Ben Fisher On Apr 14 2011 @ 12:28 pm In Toronto Blue Jays | No Comments

What Happened

The Blue Jays (6-6) were fortunate to emerge from their three-game set in Seattle with a win after such a destructive start that saw the bullpen blow a 7-0 lead. That, plus a 3-2 M’s win on the strength of a sensational outing by pitching phenom Michael Pineda, gave Seattle the series win, but the Jays are hoping that their 8-3 victory in the finale will help them past a disappointing Western swing.

A Closer Look

Bullpen still needs work: And that’s not just because of the struggles of Carlos Villanueva, David Purcey, Octavio Dotel and Shawn Camp on Monday night. The entire relief corps remains in a state of flux, with Marc Rzepczynski looking like the only reliable arm. For the most part, Villanueva has been solid and Casey Janssen has proven capable in limited innings, but that’s about it. Purcey has already been designated for assignment (meaning the team has 10 days to decide whether to trade, waive or release Purcey) after allowing three earned runs through just 2.1 innings and neither Dotel nor Jason Frasor look like trust-worthy set-up options right now. John Farrell and pitching coach Bruce Walton are still getting a feel for their roster of arms and Frank Francisco is still working his way back, but this remains an area of concern in Toronto.

Patterson Arrives with a Hot Bat: Between Rajai Davis’ early season success (before suffering an ankle injury) and Corey Patterson’s six-hit tear during the Seattle series, the Jays are getting some surprising production from the CF position. Patterson will move back into the fourth outfield slot once Davis returns from the DL, but he is showing his value as a guy with wheels and a still-potent bat who can contribute to a newly aggressive top of the order.

Fear No.s 8 and 9: Speaking of hot bats, Edwin Encarnacion and Jayson Nix seem to be finding their own niche at the back end of the Jays’ line-up. Encarnacion went 6-11 against Seattle and scored three runs, while Nix went 5-12 and continues to gain more of a grip on the third base job. If Juan Rivera wasn’t already expendable, the former Indian is making him even more so.

Hill’s Struggles Continue: Looks like Aaron Hill has picked up right where he left off last season – and not in a good way. It was hard to find any reason for concern early on, with Hill collecting hits in seven of his first eight games (which hid the fact that he only hit .208 over that stretch), but a 1-13 series against the Mariners shed some light on a player still struggling to get his game on track.

Down in the Minors: The Las Vegas 51’s will have nearly gone two weeks into the season before their home opener on Friday night, but the road trip doesn’t seem to be bothering the Triple A club. The 51’s are out to a 5-2 start to the year, thanks to a trio of prospects who are knocking on the door of the big club. Brett Lawrie has carried a torrid Spring Training into the season, hitting .414 with a .500 OBP and basically showing the organization that there’s little left for the 21-year old to accomplish in the minors offensively. Interesting, though, that the team opted to send him to Las Vegas while most premium young prospects were sent to Double A New Hampshire to avoid the potential distractions of Sin City. Meanwhile, 24-year olds David Cooper (.379 average) and Eric Thames (.370) have also been blowing the cover off the ball in Vegas.

The Other Guys: For the Mariners, even a seven-run comeback could not take the focus away from Pineda, who earned his first major league win after surrendering just two runs and five hits over 7.1 innings. The physically dominant (6’7” and 260 lb.) Dominican-born hurler is still learning how to pitch, but his 11 strikeouts and 2.70 ERA through two starts represents and encouraging beginning and offers hope that he and Felix Hernandez (assuming King Felix stays in Seattle) will form an imposing front of the rotation for years to come.

Up Next

Following an off-day, John Farrell returns to his old stomping grounds as the Jays visit Fenway Park to take on the stunningly bad Red Sox. Friday’s opener will see Brett Cecil try to get on track and re-discover the success he enjoyed against the AL East last season as he faces Boston’s Clay Buchholz.

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