Heading into Saturday’s middle game of their three-game series against the host Tampa Bay Rays, the Toronto Blue Jays know that help is nearby and might be on the way this weekend.
The Blue Jays are awaiting the debut of newcomer George Springer — a game-changing leadoff hitter who could boost Toronto’s slumping offense.
In Friday night’s series opener, Toronto produced just six hits — one of them a three-run homer by Marcus Semien — but scored four times in the first off Tampa Bay ace Tyler Glasnow and held on for a 5-3 win.
Meanwhile, the prized Springer — who signed a team-record six-year, $150 million contract in the offseason — is getting game-ready at the alternate site in nearby Dunedin, Fla., the Blue Jays’ temporary home less than 25 miles from Tampa Bay’s domed stadium in St. Petersburg.
Springer, a 31-year-old outfielder, strained an oblique in spring training and then aggravated his right quad, which has kept him out of the lineup and shuffled the Toronto outfield, plus left an unproductive hole in the No. 1 spot.
Right fielder Cavan Biggio — hitting just .135 — batted leadoff Friday and went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.
Springer’s club debut is very close, and the three-time All-Star played in an intrasquad game Friday and could be available against the Rays in the series.
“We just want to see how he responds and how he feels,” Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins said Thursday. “Then we’ll see how he recovers the next day before we make that decision.”
With their pitching lined up perfectly for the set with Tampa Bay, the Blue Jays will send out left-hander Robbie Ray (0-1, 1.80 ERA), who has battled wildness in the brief season.
Through two starts, the Brentwood, Tenn., native has thrown 10 innings, but many of them involved long at-bats with inconsistent control that has resulted in free passes.
Ray has allowed just seven hits and two runs while striking out six in the outings. However, his lack of command has led to nine walks and a wild pitch, including six bases on balls in five scoreless innings in Sunday’s start in Kansas City.
In two career starts against Tampa Bay, Ray, 29, has an 0-1 record with a 4.50 ERA — also in 10 innings pitched and with six walks.
In Friday’s odd contest, the strangest occurrence might not have been starter Glasnow’s weird first frame, when he became just the second pitcher in major-league history to allow four runs in an inning in which he struck out four. The last time it happened? July 2, 1902, when Doc White of the Philadelphia Phillies had a similar inning against the Brooklyn Superbas.
Instead, it was that the right-hander settled down smartly with four scoreless before yielding a solo shot to Randal Grichuk in the sixth.
“If his pitch count had continued to escalate and blow up (after two innings), we’re going to blow our entire bullpen up,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “It was huge by him.”
Right-hander Brent Honeywell Jr. (0-0, 2.70) is expected to serve as the opener for the Rays before yielding to Ryan Yarbrough. A left-hander, Yarbrough is 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA and will be pitching in his fifth game on the season. He is 6-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 12 career appearances against Toronto — five starts.
The Rays’ injury-riddled bullpen took another hit Friday when they announced that closer Diego Castillo had been placed on the COVID-19 injured list due to side effects from his vaccination.
–Field Level Media