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Tuesday Choke Job Quashes Jays’ Hopes for Bronx Success

Posted By Ben Fisher On May 26 2011 @ 12:28 pm In Toronto Blue Jays | No Comments

What Happened

Momentum gained from an inspired series opener couldn’t carry the Blue Jays (24-25) much further, as a bullpen collapse sent the club reeling and saw them wind up with a 2-1 series loss at the hands of the Yankees. Despite exceptional starts from Carlos Villanueva and Ricky Romero, the Jays fell below .500 and continued their puzzling ‘win the first, lose the rest’ trend that has seen them go 13-4 in the opening game of the series and just 11-21 in non-openers.

A Closer Look

The Closer Debacle: Where’d that bullpen go that I so readily praised not even a month ago? It would be overly simplistic to blame it on over-use from some shaky outings from the starters early in the season, as the problem has mainly involved short relief arms (namely, Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and Octavio Dotel) while those who have logged 20+ innings (Villanueva, Marc Rzepczynski and Shawn Camp) have remained fairly steady. Instead, this issue falls squarely on the late inning guys who were supposed to be stopgap measures brought in to lend consistency and stability to the back end of a pitching roster heavy on young starters. The starters have, for the most part, come through, but Francisco’s two losses in three appearances and 6.23 ERA won’t cut it (he also can’t pitch on consecutive days, as evidenced by his five earned runs allowed in the second half of his past two back-to-back outings). Unfortunately, there aren’t many appealing alternative options, given that Rauch and Dotel aren’t exactly knocking on the door. Jason Frasor would be an option, but he has struggled under the pressure of the closer’s job before.

Not-Yet-King Carlos: Villanueva certainly made a favourable impression on Monday night in what was his first start in two seasons. The 27-year old made the most of his limited five innings of work, allowing just one run on two hits while striking out five Yankee hitters and throwing an economical 75 pitches. Manager John Farrell made the right move to not risk testing his arm strength with the Jays holding what was a 6-1 lead at the time, but it would have been interesting to see how he handled the heart of the Yankees’ line-up which had now seen him twice. Villanueva will get the ball again on Saturday with perhaps a slightly higher pitch limit, but the start will still go a long way in determining whether he is for real as a potential starting candidate. If not, it still doesn’t hurt to have the versatile right-hander with the 1.53 ERA among the team’s available arms.

Rivera Finding his Swing: Blue Jays fans could have been forgiven leading into Tuesday’s game for questioning Farrell’s call to hand the clean-up spot to Juan Rivera, who hasn’t exactly been tearing it up offensively. While the job may be best suited as an experience-gaining opportunity for J.P. Arencibia or even Eric Thames, Rivera has held his own in the slot through two games, going 3-8 with an RBI, a double and a run scored. The 32-year old isn’t part of the team’s long-term plans, but could be a trade asset down the road if he can return to 2009 form (25 home runs, .287 average and .312 OBP with the Angels) and re-establish himself as a capable, professional hitter.

Down on the Farm: We all know that Brett Lawrie continues to swing a hot bat at AAA Las Vegas as he waits for an inevitable major league call-up, but what about some of the other gems within the organization? Well, for now at least, it’s a mixed bag. On the plus side, you have Anthony Gose looking every bit the part of the dangerous hitter and on-base threat that the Jays traded Brett Wallace for, with a .277 average, impressive .370 OBP and an Eastern League-high 20 stolen bases for AA New Hampshire. Also impressing are Single A Dunedin hurlers Chad Jenkins (2-5, 2.65 ERA) and Deck McGuire (3-2, 2.64 ERA), while Fisher Cats Travis d’Arnaud (.333 average, .404 OBP) and Reider Gonzalez (6-1, 1.72 ERA) are making their mark at the AA level. On the other side of the coin, you have Adeiny Hechavarria (.216 average, .242 OBP) continuing to struggle in adjusting to North American pro ball, Zach Stewart (3-3, 5.15 ERA) enduring a bumpy start to 2011 and Kevin Ahrens (remember him?) all but done as a viable major league prospect. As an aside, who the heck is A.J. Jimenez and how is he hitting .364 (.398 OBP) at Dunedin?

The Other Guys: The Jays’ bullpen collapse is really only one side of the story explaining the Yankees’ come-from-behind win on Tuesday. The other side is that this team really is that dangerous in late game situations. Against Francisco in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s game, the only hitter to not see at least four pitches was pinch-hitter Jorge Posada, who doubled on the first offering from the right-hander. Otherwise, New York batters worked the count, fouled off pitches and ultimately figured out how to claw their way back.

Up Next

The White Sox come to town to kick off what is a seven-game homestand for the Jays. Brandon Morrow gets the call in the opener for Toronto against White Sox hurler Phil Humber.

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