Blue Jays cut back on innings for young hurlers

September 17th, 2019

BALTIMORE -- In the home stretch of September baseball, the Blue Jays are shaking tactics up to ensure the health of the youngsters for whom this is the first time playing in the big leagues at the same time the leaves are changing colors.

Specifically for their young pitching staff, openers will become more commonplace over the last 12 games of the season. On Tuesday, for example, Trent Thornton was slated to make his 29th start of the year, but Toronto elected to throw reliever Ryan Tepera to open in front of him.

“We are counting his innings,” said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo of Thornton. “We are going to count all these guys’ innings. We have our starters, but we could use an opener almost every other day just because we are counting their innings.”

Tepera, Wilmer Font, Jason Adam and Jordan Romano -- the latter two of which are working back to full health in the coming days -- are the most likely candidates to open games. Font, for his part, trails only Thornton for starts among active Blue Jays this season. And they’ll do so to help manage the health of “The [Anthony] Kays and [T.J. Zeuchs] and Trents and [Jacob] Waguespacks,” Montoyo said.

Only Clay Buchholz, the 35-year-old veteran who missed over three months due to injury, will not need to worry about coming out of the ’pen.

“For the other kids, that’s what we’re trying to do, count their innings, so we can use an opener every day,” said Montoyo, who hails from the Rays' coaching tree that popularized the opener. “And I’m letting the other teams know just because when you see Waguespack, we could use an opener. … We just have to be careful with those guys.”

But the new terrain of September -- and the wear that it may bring on the body -- is not unique to the pitching staff. Take Vladimir Gurrero Jr. for example. Ahead of Tuesday's series opener against the Orioles, the rookie sensation is batting just .167/.217/.238 without any homers in 42 September at-bats when he entered the month with a .341/.406/.571 August slash line.

“He’s trying harder because he’s never been to this spot,” Montoyo said. “It’s good because now he needs to make an adjustment. There’s nothing I can tell him. He’s got to know what can he do to make an adjustment. … You can tell him from experience, but the best experience is that you went through it.”

For the 59-91 Blue Jays, that’s what the remainder of September is going to be about.

Montoyo receives “best compliment” as manager
Montoyo is not just happy with how his team has performed of late, taking a combined four of six from the perennial powerhouse Red Sox and Yankees.

But it was a comment he received from a pair of New York media personalities -- George King III of the New York Post and Suzyn Waldman of WFAN -- that made his smile shine brightest.

“You know what I’ve been most happy about with our team?” Montoyo said. “In every game, we play hard. The big compliment from the guy from the Yankees, ‘You guys play hard even though you’re way out. You just play to win.’ And I’m proud of that. … That’s the best compliment I could receive as a manager.”

From the trainer’s room
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. made his second start in the lineup Tuesday since his month-long quad strain. He was slotted at designated hitter in the No. 3 spot in the order, and has yet to play the field since his return.

• Romano and Adam -- both candidates to be used as openers -- are nearing full strength to be used in that role. The two played catch at Camden Yards on Tuesday afternoon, and the next step for each will be long toss on Wednesday before deciding when exactly their return will come.

Adam has had to let some inflammation in his elbow subside. If long toss goes well, he could return by Thursday. Romano, meanwhile, is working back from a tweaked right ankle. In addition to long toss, he’ll take some practice covering first pregame Wednesday, with the chance to return as soon as that night.

“We’ll see how that Canadian kid bounces back,” Montoyo said of Romano. “Because you guys are tough.”