BOSTON -- Atop the Charlie Montoyo soundboard, there’s a worn-out button that reads, “Hitting is contagious.”
Montoyo believes it today, believed it last year and believed it 30 years ago. That’s why his answer to the Blue Jays’ unexpected slow offensive start has not been a grand overhaul or adjustment, but simply patience. We saw why in Wednesday’s 6-1 win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
This was the type of offensive performance Toronto needed with Teoscar Hernández and Danny Jansen both on the injured list with oblique ailments. The club's injury situation almost grew significantly more dire when George Springer took a pitch off the right forearm and underwent X-rays, but those came back negative.
It was another scare, but it pulled back the curtain on the Blue Jays’ clubhouse.
“The attitude in our locker room is pretty positive, and that just goes to show the depth that we have on this team,” said first baseman Cavan Biggio, who notched his first hit of the season. “The next guy up is the mentality, for sure. Over the course of 162 games, stuff like this is going to happen. Happening early on, yes, it sucks, but we have the depth and we have the confidence.”
Biggio is the perfect example. After he singled in the second to load the bases with no outs, Springer brought home a run with a sacrifice fly. As Alejandro Kirk scampered from second to third, Biggio crept away from first, waiting to see the throw in from center field. When that throw went to third, Biggio grabbed a free base, then scored soon after on Bo Bichette's two-run single.
It’s not flashy, and it’s not Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s three-homer game in New York, but these are the ways the Blue Jays can find consistency, not the ups and downs that saw them get shut out in two of their four games against the Yankees last week.
“I know we’re going to be all right,” Montoyo said. “Because everybody expects so much from this lineup, when we don’t hit much like we are right now, everybody is like, ‘Oh no.’ It’s fine. We’re going to be all right. People are going to get there.”
Even Guerrero found his own ways to grind through a game that wasn’t all that aesthetically pleasing.
Guerrero walked three times and struck out twice. There was no loud contact or game-changing power, but that opportunity or that pitch won’t always be there. There was some frustration, too, as Guerrero took one of his called third strikes and raised his arms high into the air before walking back to the dugout, sharing his opinion with home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez. Still, Montoyo loves seeing games like this from his young superstar.
“Vlad Guerrero is one of those guys,” Montoyo said. “He could tell early on they’re not going to pitch to him, so he takes a walk. To be his age and be like that? That’s impressive to me. He’s got the feel, for a young guy, to know that they’re not going to go after him.”
It’s not unfamiliar for this Blue Jays lineup to battle through injuries. In 2021, they were without Springer for more than half the season as he dealt with multiple injuries. They then had Marcus Semien, who was playing well enough to earn a third-place finish in American League MVP Award voting, but the collective growth of this group -- and the addition of Matt Chapman -- should be more than enough to weather the absences of Hernández and Jansen.
The expectations that Montoyo mentions are real, too. All eyes are on Toronto this season, which wasn’t necessarily the case for a lot of 2021. Its push within a game of a postseason spot came on the momentum of a late run, not an early surge, so it tended to sneak up on the league’s spotlight.
Now, the Blue Jays are the team that’s supposed to win. We’ve seen what it looks like when they do it the way fans tune in to see, which is home runs and big innings. There will be plenty of nights like this one in Boston, though, when they need a depth outfielder such as Raimel Tapia to kick-start something, like he did with his go-ahead two-run homer, his first with the organization.
Once that spark occurs, everything else can catch fire. But it takes a little patience, especially as the Blue Jays navigate an early rash of injuries that could have been much worse.