ARLINGTON -- Blue Jays manager John Gibbons' decision to unveil a new-look lineup resulted in immediate dividends for a team that has been looking to jump-start its offense.
Gibbons inserted Jose Bautista into the leadoff spot as part of several changes made before Wednesday night's game against the Rangers. The end result was nine batters being sent to the plate in a six-run first inning that eventually led to a 7-5 victory at Globe Life Park.
Several players were held out of the lineup to rest, so more changes will be coming in Thursday's series finale, but the plan is in place. Bautista has become the regular leadoff man and will be followed by Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson, Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales. Bautista walked and scored in the first as the Blue Jays opened the scoring for the first time in eight games.
"These guys are capable, it's not like we're hitting Smoak leadoff," Blue Jays left fielder Steve Pearce said with a smile. "Guys are capable of moving around in certain spots. Bats can definitely hit leadoff. It shocks a team. We like it. It definitely gives a new look and it showed today."
Kevin Pillar openly lobbied for the leadoff role in recent years and earned the job out of Spring Training. He was one of Toronto's best hitters through the first six weeks, with a .313 average and .874 OPS on May 16. Since then, Pillar is batting .160 (19-for-119) with seven extra-base hits and a .456 OPS.
The prolonged struggles resulted in the Blue Jays again experimenting with Bautista in the top spot. A similar move was made last season, and Bautista hit .239 with a .341 on-base percentage as the leadoff man. The point in moving Bautista up is to take advantage of his typically high on-base percentage and have more runners on base for the heart of the order.
It worked in the first inning Wednesday. Bautista walked and later came around to score on an RBI single by Smoak. Morales followed with a single, Pearce and Ryan Goins each doubled and then Darwin Barney hit a two-run homer to left field for his second of the season to make it 6-0.
"I think it does a lot," Barney said of scoring first for a team that had done so just twice over its previous 12 games. "That's why they have shutdown innings. After a team scores you want to go out there and have a shutdown inning because for some reason in baseball, guys tend to score the innings after a team scores. It's a momentum thing, I guess, but it was nice to get out in front. Guys could relax a little bit. It worked out for us."
John Smith got the start in center field and hit second as both Pillar and Martin were held out of the starting lineup. Both will be back in there Thursday and Martin will take over the second spot in the order from Smith. The other notable switch included Morales and Smoak swapping spots. Smoak has spent most of the season as the No. 5 hitter, but he has been Toronto's most valuable hitter with a team-high 20 homers and .303 average. Of those 20, 12 have been solo shots.
"We'll see how it works," Gibbons said before the game. "We put Bautista there last year and it kind of sparked us a little bit. Try something different. Change things up, maybe it'll do something."
For at least one game, it did.