TORONTO – They all count the same in the standings, but the losses to the Baltimore Orioles are likely to rise a little more than usual.
Last year this team lost 115 games. This year they will probably lose another 100. When it comes to major league talents, they are comparable to their standard expansion team.
Reinforcing the gap between the Orioles and the rest of the league, Dwight Smith Jr. was assigned to triple-A with the rebuilding of the Toronto Blue Jays. In Baltimore, he is the number two defender and day-to-day.
You can never take a win in baseball, but the nights Orioles hit you tend to be especially frustrating. That was certainly the case in Toronto on Monday when the Blue Jays lost 6-5 on a night that their initial pitcher faltered, their defense did not help and their offense waited to record their first hit until the seventh inning.
Let's start with the launch, because that's where the problem started for the Blue Jays. With Clayton Richard away, the Blue Jays turned to right-hander Sean Reid-Foley in the hope that he would fulfill the promise that makes him the No. 8 prospect of the organization.
Instead, Reid-Foley went wild at inopportune times, riding in a race and playing a wild field in a first four-run that featured a two-run home run by Jonathan Villar. After throwing another wild pitch and allowing a fifth run to score in the second, the 23-year-old day was made. All told, he pitched two innings, allowing five runs (three wins), while walking two and eliminating three.
"He fought all the time with his command," said coach Charlie Montoyo. "Nothing more I can say about it."
"I always want to be here," Reid-Foley added later. "I definitely enjoyed riding here. Obviously it did not work.
To be fair, the defense did not help much Reid-Foley. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. opened the scoring for second base in a possible double-play ball and Freddy Galvis failed to catch, contributing to the two unrealized runs. Even catcher Danny Jansen had some trouble in cornering balls behind the plate, despite having launched Richie Martin to try to advance in the fourth.
Regardless, Blue Jays could determine that Reid-Foley would benefit from a minor spice. If that is the conclusion of the team's decision-makers, they may choose to triple Buffalo for pitching reinforcements before Tuesday's game.
"We do not know what's going to happen yet," Montoyo said.
Without a stellar performance from Thomas Pannone, Toronto's bullpen would be in much worse shape. On a night when Ken Giles, Joe Biagini and Tim Mayza were unavailable, Pannone kept Baltimore scoreless with four one-touch innings. He eliminated five along the way, playing 69 pitches, so on paper he is a candidate to start at the Reid-Foley site on Saturday when the Blue Jays face the Cleveland Indians.
"I just looked at it as an opportunity to compete in the big leagues again and show the team what I can do," Pannone said of the appearance of relief. "That is all. I'm happy to help out the office and help the pitching team. This is my job."
Eventually, more throwing reinforcements will reach the Blue Jays. Striker Clay Buchholz will pitch 60 pitches on Tuesday with plans to play another 75 on Triple A five days later. If all goes well, he can join the rotation as early as April 13.
Meanwhile, Ryan Tepera and Ryan Borucki are holding parallel sessions on Wednesday, setting a comeback in mid-April for Tepera and a possible comeback for Borucki at the end of April. The next steps are not so clear for Bud Norris, who plays 90-91 m.p.h. club facilities in Florida. Ideally, the Blue Jays would watch him play more before adding him to the list.
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Perhaps most surprising on Monday was Toronto's inability to generate any offense against David Hess. The right-hander was extremely prone to homer last year, but managed not to hit the Blue Jays with 6.1 innings, while eliminating eight career batters.
"It's been a fight," said Montoyo. "I'm not going to defend our offense now, but let's hit it, that's what they do, they have a record, they're going to hit, they're just not beating now."
It was not until the bullpen took over that the Blue Jays got their first hit of the day, a two-goal home run by Randal Grichuk, who left the club at 108.3 m.p. Galvis added a run with a solo homer in the eighth, and the Blue Jays joined for two more in ninth thanks to a double of Grichuk and a triple of Teoscar Hernandez. Still, it was not enough.
"You have to give them credit for making a comeback," Montoyo said. "We could have just died and did nothing, but we came back."
Even though they remain the worst baseball team, the Orioles will still earn 50 or 60 times more this season. Baseball is so unpredictable. Knowing this, it would not be reasonable to draw radical conclusions from any game. The Blue Jays are the far superior team here, best positioned for success now and in the future.
But by itself, Monday was still a disappointment. You do not want David Hess to hold you to no avail, you do not want to see defensive mistakes, and you definitely do not want your 23-year-old pitcher candidate to allow five runs over two innings in his season opener. Maybe it's the best that only 10,460 were there to see it happen.