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Toronto's bats on fire in first series victory

Pannone continues to find success out of bullpen
@gregorMLB
April 18, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- It took until the third week of the season, but the Blue Jays finally have their first series victory of the year. Randal Grichuk, Justin Smoak and Teoscar Hernandez all homered, while Eric Sogard chipped in with three RBIs in Toronto’s 7-4 victory over the Twins on Thursday

MINNEAPOLIS -- It took until the third week of the season, but the Blue Jays finally have their first series victory of the year.

Randal Grichuk, Justin Smoak and Teoscar Hernandez all homered, while Eric Sogard chipped in with three RBIs in Toronto’s 7-4 victory over the Twins on Thursday afternoon at Target Field. Right-hander Clay Buchholz took the no-decision after allowing three runs over 4 2/3 innings, and the win went to right-hander Joe Biagini.

The Blue Jays were 0-3-2 over their first five series until they took three of four games on the road in Minneapolis. Toronto’s offense was a major reason why, as the club entered this series with a franchise low in hits to start a season, but the Jays have now picked up at least eight hits in three consecutive games for the first time this year.

“Not only are we squaring balls up for base hits, but we’re getting some loud outs,” Grichuk said. “That’s always positive. Having tough at-bats. I feel like early on we had some kind of quick at-bats, either balls put in play or strikeouts -- quick. Now we’re battling. We’re putting together good at-bats, swinging at good pitches and it’s showing.”

Here were the three keys to Toronto picking up its first series victory on Thursday:

1) Grichuk lets his bat do the talking

Grichuk caused a bit of a stir on Wednesday night when he started a Twitter feud with White Sox infielder Tim Anderson. The controversy began when the outfielder tweeted: “Guys are getting a little excessive on pimping HRs, on meaningless HRs too. Act like you have done it before, one time.” The tweet came shortly after Anderson flipped his bat after a home run and later became involved in a dugouts clearing altercation vs. Kansas City.

The following day, Grichuk let his performance at the plate speak for itself. In the top of the first inning, Grichuk hit a 1-2 slider over the wall in left field for a solo home run. Grichuk’s fourth of the year was projected by Statcast to travel 381 feet and left his bat at 95.7 mph. After making contact, Grichuk sprinted around the bases and had a muted celebration in the dugout when he was greeted with a firm handshake by starter Marcus Stroman. Of Grichuk’s 17 hits this season, 10 of them have gone for extra bases.

“It’s a fine line,” Grichuk said when asked about remarks on Twitter. “I was always taught from the day I started playing ball, respect your opponent, respect the game and go about it the right way. I feel like I always have and I think every guy likes to have a little fun and show personality, but it’s a fine line and I think for everybody it’s different.”

2) Smoaking hot

Smoak has been on absolute tear since he returned to the Blue Jays’ lineup on April 11 after missing four games because of a sore neck. Toronto’s slugging first baseman has reached base in 15 of his last 16 games, and over his last eight contests, he has reached base in 19 of 35 plate appearances. Smoak has five singles, a double, two homers, 10 walks and a hit by pitch over that same span.

The 32-year-old continued that hot streak in the series finale. Smoak flew out in the first inning, but he did some serious damage when he returned to the plate in the fourth. With Toronto trailing 3-1, he tied the game by hitting a 92.9 mph fastball from right-hander Michael Pineda over the wall in right field for his third home run of the season. Smoak entered play on Thursday with the third-most walks (13) in the American League and his .431 on-base percentage ranked sixth.

“They’re all swinging the bat pretty good right now,” manager Charlie Montoyo said in reference to the heart of his lineup all going deep. “Right now, if Sogard stays hot, now you have Sogard and [Freddy] Galvis getting on base for those three guys, so that’s a good combination for us.”

3) Pannone to the rescue

Thomas Pannone has been lights out since moving to the bullpen, and he came through in a big situation yet again on Thursday afternoon. The rookie left-hander entered in the bottom of the fifth, with a pair of runners on and two outs with veteran Marwin Gonzalez representing the tying run at the plate. Pannone worked the count full before getting Gonzalez to swing and miss on a 91.3 mph fastball below the strike zone.

The 25-year-old has made seven appearances out of the bullpen so far this season and has allowed just one earned run. Pannone also made one start for Toronto, but it’s his work as a reliever that has earned praise from his manager. His velocity plays better in short stints as he’s able to sit at approximately 91 mph with his fastball as opposed to 88 mph as a starter. Pannone’s also the type of pitcher who can come in for one hitter or be used as a long reliever.

“TP has been outstanding,” Montoyo said. “That’s what I told him. ‘You can either come in and get one hitter or go three innings.’ That’s great to have someone like that. He has been outstanding. It was a big out. Moving the switch-hitter to the right side. Big out.”

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook.