Parity In The AL East

The tough AL East is bunched up early. Baltimore (17-14) leads the way, while the Blue Jays are only 1.5 games back and tied with Boston for third. That and plenty more in Melissa Couto’s weekly notebook

The tough AL East is bunched up early. Baltimore (17-14) leads the way, while the Blue Jays are only 1.5 games back and tied with Boston for third. That and plenty more in Melissa Couto’s weekly notebook

TORONTO — Five weeks into the MLB season, no team has yet emerged as the clear leader in the American League East division.

And as far as John Gibbons is concerned, that's a good thing, especially considering the mediocre road trip Toronto just came back from.

"(We're) very fortunate," the Blue Jays manager said prior to his club's 10-0 win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Rogers Centre on Wednesday night.

Toronto ended its most recent road trip 4-4 after tough losses in Kansas City and Pittsburgh, including three in which substantial leads were erased late in games.

The Blue Jays were 3-7 before winning four in a row to steady their record back at .500 (17-17) after Wednesday's contest.

Baltimore leads the division with a 17-14 record. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, are only 1.5 games back and in a tie with Boston for third place. Tampa Bay (15-19) sits fifth, 3.5 games back, and New York (17-15) is in second place.

Gibbons said he was "very surprised" with the parity so far among his biggest rivals in the game.

"It's unusual, it doesn't usually happen," he said. "But it's kind of that way in all of baseball. Everybody's bunched up in just about every division."

NOTES: Blue Jays right-fielder Jose Bautista reached base for the 34th consecutive game Wednesday, tying Paul Molitor's  [Jose-Bautista] streak from 1994. Carlos Delgado set Toronto's record in 1998 with 38. ... Fredericton's Matt Stairs, who played two seasons in Toronto (and two in Philadelphia), was at Rogers Centre for the two-game series. He was hired by the Phillies as a broadcaster during the off-season.

ON THE INJURY FRONT

Gibbons thinks Brett Lawrie's hamstring injury is minor enough to avoid a stint on the disabled list. The Blue Jays manager said he wouldn't play Lawrie Wednesday or Thursday with the hopes of having him back in the lineup Friday, when the Los Angeles Angels come to town.

"He should be ready to go (by Friday)," Gibbons said. "We think it's very minor, but we don't want to aggravate it too soon and he ends up on the DL."

With Adam Lind set to return from his rehab assignment Thursday or Friday, Gibbons said a catcher will likely be sent down to make room on the big-league roster. That suggests Juan Francisco, who's hitting .276 with 11 RBIs and four home runs — including his first against a lefty (Cliff Lee) Wednesday — is safe for now.

Lind was 1-for-4 with a walk and two runs scored in Dunedin's 6-3 win over Clearwater Wednesday night.

NOTES: Casey Janssen threw one inning in his second rehab appearance with the double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats on Wednesday, giving up one hit and striking out two.

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GET TO KNOW: RHP R.A. Dickey

My most memorable game: "Winning my 20th game in 2012 (pause...) or my major league debut (pause...) or pitching in the  [RA-Dickey] Olympic Games in 1996. I'd have to say all three of those were my most memorable."

The best advice I've ever received: "I've gotten so much great advice over the years, but one of the things I really try to hold on to in this particular arena of career is never take yourself too seriously. That helps you do a few things: it helps you stay humble, it helps you block out all the things that people say about you, so I consider that very valuable advice.

"My wife's uncle, who I have a great relationship with, will often text me and that was in one of our conversations."

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TOP CANADIANS IN THE MAJORS

THE GOOD

Markham, Ont., native George Kottaras put his name in the record books in his season debut with the Cleveland Indians Sunday, hitting two home runs in his first two at-bats, and becoming the first Indians player to do it in franchise history.

Kottaras, who was filling in for catcher Yan Gomes while he took paternity leave, also picked up a walk in Cleveland's 4-3 loss to  [Kottaras] the White Sox.

The 30-year-old was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 20th round of the 2002 draft, made his big league debut for the Boston Red Sox in 2008, and bounced around between the minors and majors with four different organizations over the last six years.

Kottaras has played 296 big league games with a career slash line of .216/.326/.416. He was hitting .080 with zero home runs through nine contests with the triple-A Columbus Clippers before being called up.

Despite the historic performance, however, Kottaras was designated for assignment by the Indians on Monday.

THE BAD

John Axford (Port Dover, Ont.) hit a rough patch with the Indians, losing consecutive games on back-to-back days Sunday and Monday.

The Indians closer entered Sunday's game against the Chicago White Sox with a 3-1 lead in the ninth, walked two of the first three batters he faced and gave up a three-run homer to Dayan  [John-Axford] Viciedo for the 4-3 loss.

Axford followed that up Monday night by allowing a 10th inning home run to Minnesota's Eduardo Escobar as the Twins edged the Tribe 1-0.

On Wednesday, however, Axford redeemed himself by pitching a scoreless ninth and picking up the win in Cleveland's 4-3 victory.

The 30-year-old has two blown saves, but is tied for fifth in the league in saves this year with nine. He's 1-3 with a 4.50 ERA through 14 innings.

NOTES: The Milwaukee Brewers put reliever Jim Henderson (Calgary) on the 15-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation on Friday. Henderson has a 7.15 ERA through 11 1/3 innings with the Brewers this year. ... The Houston Astros moved RHP Jesse Crain (Toronto) from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL. Crain, who is coming back from biceps surgery, has developed bursitis in his throwing elbow.

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TOP CANADIANS IN THE MINORS

There's a reason Mississauga, Ont., native Dalton Pompey is the 19th-ranked prospect in the Blue Jays farm system, and through the first month of the season he's shown it.

Pompey, 21, is hitting .339 with a .415 on-base percentage through 30 games with the single-A Dunedin Blue Jays. The centre-fielder has 40 hits, including five doubles and three triples, 16 RBIs, and 15 stolen bases in 15 attempts.  [DaltonPompey]

If his offensive production wasn't impressive enough, Pompey has also fashioned himself into a leading defensive player as well — and he's got the hardware to prove it. Pompey won a Gold Glove award after being named the best defensive center-fielder in the minors last year.

And his teammates are appreciative.

Left-handed pitcher Daniel Norris, the Blue Jays second round draft pick in 2011, says Pompey has "lived up to his Gold Glove award and beyond."

"Offensively, he is exciting to watch. (He has) so many tools that he can flash each time," Norris said. "He steps in the box, and you never know if he will drop down a bunt, slap a single or drive a ball in the gap and gallop around the bases."

Norris has gotten off to a hot start himself, going 3-0 with a .063 ERA through six starts. The 21-year-old has struck out 36 and walked nine in 28 2/3 innings.

NOTES: The Blue Jays promoted former Etobicoke Rangers' grad RHP Shawn Hill (Georgetown, Ont.) from double-A to triple-A Buffalo Wednesday. Hill, 33, started Buffalo's game at Gwinnett, pitching six innings and giving up five runs (all earned) on six hits, including two home runs. Hill also walked two and struck out six. He made two starts for New Hampshire prior to his call-up, going 0-1 with a 4.15 ERA. ... Justin Atkinson (Surrey, B.C.) has 13 hits in his last seven games for the single-A Lansing Lugnuts.

— Follow Melissa Couto on Twitter @throwinsmoke

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Melissa Couto

My name is Melissa Couto. I'm a sports reporter-editor at The Canadian Press, where I've worked for the past two years. Mostly I work on the night desk, editing copy for print, online and broadcast, but I have been doing more and more writing recently. I also contribute to the Canadian Baseball Network, a website founded by renowned Toronto Sun columnist Bob Elliott.

 

I'm a graduate of Centennial College's sports journalism post-graduate program. Before that, I went to Western where I completed a BA and MA in American history (it's helped me impress people when we're watching Jeopardy). In all seriousness, my time at Western was valuable.  I walked away with a real passion for writing. When I took the post-grad program at Centennial, I learned to merge that love of writing with the love of sport that I've always had (particularly for baseball), and as they say, the rest is history.