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Blue Jays can't get bats going in Vlad's absence

Club scores only 2 runs for 2nd straight game, goes 1-for-6 with RISP
@alysonfooter
June 15, 2019

HOUSTON -- A rebuilding Blue Jays team will have to scrape and claw for every win it gets this season. Trying to do it without a huge piece of its offense, while facing a first-place team, is a tall order. That was apparent during Toronto’s 7-2 loss to the Astros

HOUSTON -- A rebuilding Blue Jays team will have to scrape and claw for every win it gets this season. Trying to do it without a huge piece of its offense, while facing a first-place team, is a tall order.

That was apparent during Toronto’s 7-2 loss to the Astros on Saturday afternoon at Minute Maid Park. The best news of the day arrived a couple of hours before first pitch, when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. took batting practice to test out his bruised left hand. Guerrero sent several balls into the left-field seats with ease, and after the game, manager Charlie Montoyo confirmed the third baseman will likely be back in the lineup Sunday.

The Blue Jays, who have scored two or fewer runs 22 times in 40 games this season, need him.

Box score

Toronto's offense managed four hits against starter Framber Valdez, Houston's left-handed sinker-ball pitcher who, through the first four innings, recorded all of his outs via strikeout or ground ball. It wasn't until the fifth, when Danny Jansen flied out to right following hits by Freddy Galvis and Cavan Biggio, that any Blue Jays hitter got the ball in the air.

"He had good sinking action on his fastball," Montoyo said. "He reminds me of [Marcus] Stroman, or even [Clayton] Richard. If you don't get the ball up, you're going to hit ground balls. He kept the ball down and we swung at a lot of ground balls."

Valdez fed Blue Jays hitters a steady diet of two-seamers and curveballs with a few changeups mixed in throughout his six innings, racking up a season-high eight strikeouts. The K’s came in bunches -- Valdez retired the side in the second after yielding a leadoff walk to Teoscar Hernandez, and he fanned three more in the sixth, working around a one-out walk, again to Hernandez.

"I think his stuff plays inside the strike zone," Houston manager AJ Hinch said of Valdez. "He knows that. He got tremendous amount of soft contact [on] ground balls today. The punchout was there for him, especially with the breaking ball.”

Valdez recorded all three strikeouts in the sixth on curveballs.

"His sinker has a ton of movement, especially from the left-hand side," said Biggio, who recorded one of the Blue Jays' six hits on the day. "Probably the most I've ever seen from a left-handed pitcher. His arm action, he was able to get guys off their timing a little bit and mix that curveball in there. It gets guys off their plan.”

Saturday’s game could be viewed as a teachable moment. The Blue Jays' challenges this season aren't limited to their offense, but that segment of their roster is arguably the most interesting to follow in a year of transition. While the Blue Jays will spend the next several seasons tasked with obtaining and developing pitching that can sustain at the Major League level, they're in better shape offensively, with a handful of young hitters showing promise this year.

Pitch recognition and handling breaking stuff are two of the biggest adjustments a young hitter has to make. Against the Astros, Toronto’s young players gained experience against a crafty lefty who worked quickly and kept hitters off balance throughout a game that lasted just two hours and 26 minutes.

”You want to be on top of that fastball and you work hard to get on time for it, and then he flips you that curveball and it slows you down a little bit,” Biggio said. “As a hitter, you have to be disciplined and stay directional where you're able to recognize the off-speed, and stay through the middle of the field as best as possible.”

Slick defense

Despite the five-run loss, Saturday’s game did provide a highlight or two. Left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. recorded two outfield assists on throws to second base, bringing his season total to four in 19 games in the outfield.

Gurriel’s two assists marked the 24th time this year Toronto has recorded more than one outfield assist in a game. The club record for an individual performance is three in a single game, set by Rick Bosetti and Steve Bowling.

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.