The second game of Toronto’s 2016 campaign finished the same way, with the Jays winning 5-3 in Tampa Bay, but how they arrived at that result was very different.
Sunday, the team was carried by eight strong innings from Marcus Stroman, with a Troy Tulowitzki two-run home run in the eighth turning into the cushion the club needed to hold off the rallying Rays. On Monday, veteran R.A. Dickey wasn’t nearly as sturdy on the mound, logging just five innings while giving up six hits, two walks and three runs before being chased after facing one batter in the sixth.
But while the Jays pieced together runs in the opener, it was the long ball that accounted for four of Toronto’s five runs, as Josh Thole, Michael Saunders and Josh Donaldson all went yard. It was the first of the season for all three men and while dingers from the reigning AL MVP Donaldson are nothing new, seeing Thole inch one over the fence and Saunders get on the board early are positive signs to begin the year.
It wasn’t just at the dish that Toronto was getting familiar results either, as centerfielder Kevin Pillar picked up where he left off last season with the ridiculous defense in the outfield.
Tampa’s Steve Pearce starched one towards the gap in the eighth and Pillar got on his horse to chase it down, leaping up to make the grab, robbing the Rays batter of extra bases before crashing into the wall. Playing opposite last year’s American League Gold Glove winner at his position, Pillar showed his prowess on the defensive side of things isn’t going to take a dip now that he’s holding down leadoff duties for the team this season.
Just two games into the year, “The 2016 Kevin Pillar Highlight Reel” already has it’s first entry.
While Dickey was just average, the bullpen came in and did a terrific job, with Jesse Chavez beginning his second stint in “The Big Smoke” with a solid effort in the sixth before the Jays got into what could be a lockdown trio to end games this year if all goes well, as lefty Brett Cecil struck out two in a flawless seventh before newcomer Drew Storen got two of his own (along with giving up a walk and a hit) in the eighth.
In the ninth, closer Roberto Osuna took the bump for the second straight day, needing just seven pitches to pick up his second save in as many days to wrap up Toronto’s second win of the season.
Player of the Game: Josh Thole
That might seem like an odd choice, given that the back-up catcher went 1-for-4 with his barely-over-the-wall home run to tie things at 1-1 in the third off Tampa starter Drew Smyly, but here’s the thing: Thole is a career .249 hitter with seven home runs before Monday’s dinger and whatever he does at the dish is gravy.
Thole gets the nod as the POTG because his presence behind the plate whenever Dickey starts means Russell Martin gets a day off and given the way the Canadian catcher was hobbled at times last season, sitting down every fifth day is crucial. As long as Thole is serviceable with the lumber and strong defensively, it should be easy for manager John Gibbons to keep penciling him in whenever Dickey takes the mound (and maybe once or twice with other guys) in order to help keep Martin fresh.
On Deck: It’s the same time, same place for Game 3 of this series today as Toronto sends youngster Aaron Sanchez to the mound opposite Jake Odorizzi as the Blue Jays look to make it three-in-a-row to begin the year.