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Pitching, Young Hitters Boost Jays

Posted By Ben Fisher On Aug 1 2011 @ 10:23 pm In Toronto Blue Jays | No Comments

What Happened

A weekend highlighted by a nod to the past with Robbie Alomar’s number retirement ceremony on Monday also offered some excitement for the future. The Blue Jays (55-53) took two of three against the Rangers thanks to solid outings from Brett Cecil, Brad Mills and Brandon Morrow (average age: 26), as well as offensive contributions from J.P. Arencibia and newcomer Colby Rasmus.

A Closer Look

Young Hurlers Lead the Charge: When the Jays met the league’s third-highest scoring offence last weekend in Texas, they allowed 12 Rangers’ runs in the opener and 17 for the series. This time, out Jays pitching allowed only eight runs – total. Chalk that up to each of Cecil, Mills and Morrow coming up with stellar starts – a notable trio of achievements for three big parts of the team’s future. In a week where the organization’s pitching ranks got a tad thinner with the exits of Zach Stewart and Marc Rzepczynski (Jason Frasor and Octavio Dotel don’t really count), the trio’s collective 21 innings of weekend work and five earned runs (2.14 ERA) were surely a welcome sight. For each man, the outing was meaningful: Cecil ended July with a 4-4 record and 4.34 ERA after beginning the month at 1-3 and a 7.24 average; Mills pitched a gem (albeit in a losing effort) in his first big league start in almost a year; and after a shaky first two batters, Morrow bounced back from an ugly loss against Baltimore and rediscovered the form that helped him win his previous five decisions.

Trouble with Escobar?: The newsworthy weekend was filled with many positives (strong pitching, two hitting outbursts and a moving Alomar ceremony) also offered a troubling glimpse into an issue that might be resurfacing. While most head case talk around the club of late has been focused mainly on Rasmus, it is Yunel Escobar’s character questions that are now rearing their ugly head. The shortstop was held out of the line-up on Sunday, curious in that it came against left-handed hurler CJ Wilson (Escobar has smacked lefties around for a .341 average this season). John Farrell called it a scheduled day off, but if that is to be believed, doesn’t it put the skip’s game management into serious question? Instead, it looks like a recent lack of hustle and a hot-headed display in getting thrown out of Saturday’s game did not go unnoticed by Farrell. Here’s hoping a day off helps Escobar get his head together and that the immaturity issues faced by the 28-year old in Atlanta are a thing of the past.

The New-Look ‘Pen: It’s telling that among the three relievers acquired from St. Louis, it was PJ Walters who got the first call. Walters seems to have entrenched himself as the first lefty relief option, at least until Luis Perez gets called back up, with Jays’ management wanting to give the 6’4” power pitcher a look. Jesse Litsch, meanwhile, takes over Rzepczynski’s long-relief right-hander role while Jon Rauch seems to have claimed the full-time closer’s role from Frank Francisco (neither one are in for the long haul). As for the second stint tandem of Trever Miller and Brian Tallet, Miller didn’t do himself any favours by coughing up an earned run on Sunday in just 1/3rd of an inning, while Tallet can look forward to having a decent seat to watch most of the remainder of the Jays’ season from.

Revisiting the Trades: Instead of using an “Other Guys” space on a team I weighed in on just a week ago, this space might as well serve to cover off two trades – one recent, one not-so-recent – in which the Rangers have absolutely owned the Jays. Toronto’s 2001 trade of Michael Young for Esteban Loaiza is among the most one-sided you can find and, appropriately enough, was soon followed by baseball GM’s placing a renewed emphasis on placing a premium on home-grown, young talent. The Mike Napoli-for-Francisco deal won’t haunt the club in the same way, but has looked pretty ugly for at least this season. Napoli is hitting .289 with decent power numbers (15 home runs) and an impressive .390 OBP while spending plenty of time in the line-up for the AL West-leading Rangers, while Francisco carries a 4.68 ERA and couldn’t hold down the closer role with the Jays despite hardly having much competition. The deal was a by-product of the Vernon Wells’ trade – which the Jays would do again in an instant – but still has to be evaluated independently as a loss.

Up Next

A battle of aces kicks off Toronto’s three-game set in Tampa Bay, as Ricky Romero and David Price go to the hill on Tuesday night.

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