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Blue Jays' new approach puts squeeze on A's

@gregorMLB
April 27, 2019

TORONTO -- The days of sitting back and waiting for the home run are long over. The Blue Jays are playing a different brand of baseball this season, and at least some of the in-game strategy centers around putting the runners in motion and executing sacrifice bunts. Eric Sogard pulled

TORONTO -- The days of sitting back and waiting for the home run are long over. The Blue Jays are playing a different brand of baseball this season, and at least some of the in-game strategy centers around putting the runners in motion and executing sacrifice bunts.

Eric Sogard pulled off a successful safety squeeze, Brandon Drury reached base four times and Randal Grichuk picked up a pair of RBI hits in a 7-1 win over the A’s on Saturday afternoon at Rogers Centre. Right-hander Aaron Sanchez earned the victory after he limited Oakland to one unearned run on two hits and four walks in five innings.

The Blue Jays have already surpassed last year’s total of sacrifice bunts with six. Manager Charlie Montoyo called for one during the ninth inning of Friday night’s walk-off victory over the A’s, and he used it again in this one when Sogard stepped into the box with runners on the corners and nobody out in the second inning.

“I think for the team to be at its best, you need to have both aspects of the game to work,” said Sogard, who has at least one hit in all nine of his games for the Blue Jays this season. “Obviously we have plenty of guys who can hit the long ball, but I think adding the small-ball element into it is only going to make us better.”

One reason behind the increased use of small ball is that the Blue Jays no longer have as many prominent power hitters in the lineup such as Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. But then again, neither did last year’s team, yet John Gibbons’ squad set a franchise low by completing just five sacrifice bunts all season. Montoyo’s 2019 version needed just one month to surpass that.

Toronto scored two runs in the first after second baseman Jurickson Profar was charged with a throwing error. Sogard’s safety squeeze played a role in the two-run second, while Rowdy Tellez chipped in during the fifth with an RBI single, followed shortly by a sacrifice fly from rookie Danny Jansen. No. 1 overall prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts in his second career game.

“I do it in different ways,” Montoyo said. “[Allen] Hanson, I gave him the option of bunting or getting the guy over. He tried bunting first, and then I gave Sogard the same option. The runner has to know, so the runner knew there was a chance that we could do it.”

Here’s a look at some of the other top storylines from Toronto’s fifth consecutive victory over the A’s this season:

Flashing the glove

Teoscar Hernandez spent a lot of time during the offseason, and throughout Spring Training, working on his defense, and there have been signs of progress so far in 2019. Hernandez still has a tendency to get lost in left field from time to time, but overall he has been more consistent with his routes and he’s starting to get to a lot more balls.

Saturday’s game was a perfect example. In the top of the fifth, Oakland had runners on first and second with two outs when Matt Chapman hit a liner to left-center. The ball appeared as though it was destined for the gap, but Hernandez got a good jump and made a running grab, which saved extra bases and likely a couple of runs.

“To me, it seemed like it was an easy game, 7-1,” Montoyo said. “But if he doesn’t make that play, it’s a different game. To me, that was the play of the game. That was an outstanding running catch.”

Drury loves facing green and gold

Drury is one player who would not complain if the Blue Jays played all of their games against the A’s. Toronto’s second baseman has 10 hits in 19 at-bats with three home runs, three doubles and five RBIs in four games vs. Oakland, compared to 9-for-72 against everybody else.

The 26-year-old hit a walk-off two-run homer on Friday, and he was just as impressive in this one. Drury singled in the second inning, doubled in the third and then added another single in the fifth before coming around to score on a sacrifice fly by Danny Jansen.

“We all knew he was going to get hot,” Montoyo said. “He’s hot, and he’s having good at-bats.”

Sanchez in the clear

Sanchez did not show any signs of the finger issues, which plagued him during his previous start, last Sunday vs. Oakland. The 26-year-old was removed from that outing after four innings because of a broken fingernail. That might sound like a minor issue to some, but not to a pitcher who has missed most of the last two seasons because of blisters, fingernail issues and even a problem with a tendon in his middle finger.

The good news for Toronto is that in the rematch, the fingernail issue did not resurface. Sanchez appeared to be throwing free and easy, as he topped out at 96 mph, according to Statcast, and averaged 94.3 mph with his fastball. Sanchez threw 46 of his 84 pitches for strikes, and the only run he allowed was unearned.

“No problems. I just need to throw more strikes at the end of the day,” Sanchez said. “When I came out last game, I caught it at the right time. It was fine going into today. It just bothers me a bit I was only able to go five.”

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