For at least one weekend, questions about the Blue Jays’ (36-36) pitching staff were put to rest thanks to a trio of exceptional starts. Jo-Jo Reyes, Brandon Morrow and Carlos Villanueva all enjoyed terrific outings, with only Villanueva failing to pick up a win due to a power outage from the Jays’ bats.
A Closer Look
Encouraging Starts Abound: So what to make of the performances from Reyes, Morrow and Villanueva? Well, Reyes has settled in as probably the second most consistent starter on the staff after Ricky Romero (he’s gone exactly 6.1 innings in each of his past three outings) and, while he likely won’t admit to it, had clearly been distracted by all the winless talk that he faced each time out. Morrow’s 6.2 scoreless innings of five-hit ball offered what was probably the biggest reason for optimism, but I’ll have to see more than one start to believe that he is back on track. Villanueva, meanwhile, continues to prove his long-term value as a versatile arm that has been effective this season both as a starter and coming out of the bullpen. The team may want to get in on contract talks with the 27-year old soon. Also deserving of some credit is the much-maligned relief corps that scattered just four hits and didn’t allow a run over six innings of work against the Reds.
Escobar Locked In: Yunel Escobar’s two-year, $10 million contract boasted many of the signature elements of the team’s front office. The two club option years (for $5 million each) means that the 28-year old Cuban remains controllable right through 2015, while the Jays are also afforded the flexibility of seeing how far SS prospect Adeiny Hechavarria can come offensively over the next two years. In the meantime, Toronto retains a productive middle infielder and top-of-the-line-up staple for a reasonable rate. We’ll get to an Escobar-Alex Gonzalez trade review in the recap following the Braves’ series, but it speaks well of the savvy of the front office that they now boast a productive shortstop approaching his peak years thanks to what was, effectively, a bargain bin pick-up of Gonzalez prior to last season. And Escobar will still be making less than overpaid former Blue Jay Marco Scutaro, whose exit via free agency put everything else into motion and even helped bring rising righty prospect Aaron Sanchez into the fold (2010 compensatory draft pick when Scutaro signed with Boston).
Trade Aftermath: Credit former GM J.P. Ricciardi for getting what he could out of veteran 3B Scott Rolen when the eight-time Gold Glove winner wanted out two summers ago. True, Rolen was hitting a torrid .320 at the time of his departure and the Reds have certainly been happy with the production of the 36-year old who made his sixth All-Star appearance in 2010 (although his 2011 campaign has started slow), but the Jays still have plenty to show for a guy who wasn’t in their future plans. Edwin Encarnacion, seen as the centrepiece of the deal, has been an outlet of frustration for fans who view him as a defensive liability who isn’t compensating offensively, but he does have 31 home runs since the trade, five more than Rolen. However, it’s been Zach Stewart that has been the primary asset on Toronto’s end, recently having made a solid MLB debut after developing into one of the organization’s top pitching prospects. Josh Roenicke, also acquired from Cincy, has made a bunch of appearances for the team between 2009 and 2010 but is quickly falling down the depth chart in favour of recent draft picks and newer, younger acquisitions.
The Other Guys: The Reds seem to share more in common with the Blue Jays than simply two former players (Rolen and Fred Lewis) and a star player who resides about 20 minutes away from Rogers Centre. Like Toronto, Cincinnati is happily witnessing the development of a power bat (Jay Bruce for the Reds, Adam Lind for the Jays) who is providing protection for their star slugger (Joey Votto for the Reds, Jose Bautista for the Jays). Still only 24, Bruce has 17 home runs and a .356 OBP and is continuing his steady climb towards stardom.
Escobar’s return to Atlanta will coincide with an intriguing battle of aces in Monday’s opener, as Romero takes to the hill against Braves righty Tim Hudson.
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Written by Ben Fisher