Leading man: 'Energized' Springer fuels win

August 5th, 2021

TORONTO -- For the first 70 games of the season, mostly existed as an idea on the horizon.

A quad injury landed him on the IL twice with a brief return in between, but that barely registered as Springer didn’t play the field and didn’t look like his true self. It wasn’t until June 22 that the 31-year-old made his full, healthy debut with the Blue Jays, and it took a couple of weeks to shake off the expected rust. Now that Springer is all the way back, though, you’re seeing a superstar, a one-man show atop a star-studded lineup.

Springer went 4-for-5 with three RBIs -- just a triple shy of the cycle -- in Wednesday’s 8-6 win over Cleveland that felt like a blowout early on before the bullpen let things get close late. He started it out with his trademark, too, a leadoff home run. The 439-foot shot was a no-doubter and the 42nd leadoff homer of his career, which is the eighth-most in MLB history and the most among active players. He’s got a long way to go to catch Rickey Henderson at 81, but there’s plenty of time.

Springer came into Wednesday with 10 hits and three homers across his first five games in Toronto, too. Just like the Rogers Centre debuts of Hyun Jin Ryu, Marcus Semien, Robbie Ray and others, it’s been worth the wait.

“We’re energized,” Springer said, “to have the guys that we do on our roster now, to be back home and in our home ballpark with our home fans. That’s obviously huge. I just think that our team understands every game is important, and we’re playing for our life every single day. We have to bring the same attitude, the same aggression every single day.”

This stretch of hot hitting from Springer coincides with his return to the leadoff spot. Manager Charlie Montoyo initially hit Springer leadoff with Semien rolling at the top of the lineup, but the No. 1 spot was always expected to belong to Springer eventually. It’s where he’s starred before, but the trick is:

“I was groomed to hit first my whole career," Springer said. "I understand how to navigate it a little bit. I know I may get myself out sometimes or not have the at-bat I want to have, but I just understand it’s the same thing as any other at-bat. I just happen to be hitting first.”

Springer didn’t do this alone, of course. He’s the one that gets this engine started now, but the four hitters behind him? All-Star. All-Star. All-Star. All-Star.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and friends didn’t have the biggest night as a group, but in any given game, two or three of these five are due to break out. The Blue Jays are still struggling to hit against opposing teams' bullpens late in games, which they’ll need to solve in closer games down the stretch, but they’ve had no problem in the early innings.

“We have a good lineup, and any time you have a good lineup you have a chance to do that against any starter,” Montoyo said. “We’ve been doing that. It’s been good. We’re making things happen.”

Wednesday’s offensive outburst overshadowed an excellent night from Steven Matz, who could have the inside track on Ross Stripling for the fifth spot in the rotation. The Blue Jays have a doubleheader coming up against the Red Sox on Saturday, which is why they’re still running a six-man rotation, but with Matz coming off this outing and Stripling’s experience in the bullpen in the past, there are a few arrows pointing in the same direction.

Matz gave the Blue Jays six shutout innings, striking out eight while scattering six hits. This lowered his ERA to 4.30, and while he’s had some inconsistencies through the season when he was being counted on as a mid-rotation starter, the Blue Jays will take performances like this from their potential No. 5 starter any night of the week.

With the rotation looking much stronger than it did a week ago and the lineup clearly a force, the Blue Jays’ bullpen was the squeaky wheel in the win. Tayler Saucedo allowed four runs without recording an out, a surprising outing after his strong start in the Majors earlier this season, and Jordan Romano allowed a pair of home runs late to allow Cleveland to get within two.

The Blue Jays have had two of their three phases working at most times this season, but they’ll need all three if they hope to make a postseason run. With Springer playing like this, though, they can count on the lineup producing early and often.