With weekend off, Blue Jays staying fresh

August 1st, 2020

TORONTO -- With the weekend off and no games until Tuesday’s opener in Atlanta, the Blue Jays are looking for ways to stay up to game speed despite their unexpected down time.

The Blue Jays remained in Washington after their series with the Nationals, where they worked out at Nationals Park on Saturday and will again on Sunday before traveling to Atlanta. Ball players thrive on routines, so the challenge is creating an artificial version of that in place of their postponed series against the Phillies.

With a handful of postponements around MLB on Saturday, manager Charlie Montoyo is still optimistic that his club is focused and taking care of one another. When asked on a Zoom call Saturday what the mood in the clubhouse is, Montoyo simply stood up, showing the camera his shirt that read “We Don’t Quit.”

“We’re going to try to do the same thing we did before the season started,” Montoyo said. “We’ll just try to get as close to game speed as we can with our players with live BP, guys who need to throw.”

For hitters, that means getting players their regular at-bats against live pitching so that they stay up on facing velocity. Some, like Randal Grichuk, who’s coming back from a minor back injury, will see more reps than others. Pitchers are another situation entirely, and perhaps a more challenging one.

Veteran right-hander Matt Shoemaker calls the situation “frustrating, to say the least.” Shoemaker is the likely Tuesday starter now, but it’s been a roller-coaster ride for him since he made his season debut on July 25 against the Rays.

“It’s definitely a mental and physical battle,” Shoemaker said. “You think you’re getting ready to start in a couple of days, then I go from pitching Friday to pitching on the doubleheader Saturday. Then, finding out we’re not playing in Philly at all, then potentially Tuesday. Starters, we love our routines.”

Shoemaker was great on July 25, throwing 81 pitches over six innings of one-run ball, but he’s now in the middle of an awkward rest period. Pitchers can throw side sessions or live batting practice, but nothing compares to their regular schedules.

“They all need to throw,” Montoyo said. "You don’t want to go that many days without starting, so that’s what we’re going to talk about after BP today. You’ll see a couple of our starters throw live batting practice today, because they have to.”

From Shoemaker on down, every other starter will be pushed back, too. Trent Thornton, Tanner Roark, Nate Pearson and Hyun Jin Ryu -- in that order -- will need to find what keeps them on track, individually, with these added days. It’s particularly difficult, too, as most of the group were still in the final stages of ramping up to 100%.

Montoyo also expressed concern for his high-leverage arms going through a quiet period then ramping back up, given the max-effort situations they’re put into and the adrenaline that comes along with them. Bullpen management is already very important in this shortened season, but it could be even more so now.

The Blue Jays did make one roster move in their bullpen, optioning Sam Gaviglio. The right-hander will either join the taxi squad or head to the alternate training site in Rochester, N.Y., which is still to be determined. Gaviglio has allowed three runs and walked three over one inning this season.