Slow Starts Part of the Game

3B Brett Lawrie and CF Colby Rasmus are not hitting their weight … and neither is 1B Edwin Encarnacion — early-season slumps are part of the mystery of the game, according to Blue Jays manager John Gibbons

3B Brett Lawrie and CF Colby Rasmus are not hitting their weight … and neither is 1B Edwin Encarnacion — early-season slumps are part of the mystery of the game, according to Blue Jays manager John Gibbons

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons says he can’t explain why key players in his lineup haven’t been producing so far this season.

Eight games into the 2014 campaign, Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie are hitting .074 and .103, respectively after Tuesday’s win against the Houston Astros at the Rogers Centre.

Slugger Edwin Encarnacion, who had 36 home runs and 104 RBIs last season, has zeros in both of those offensive categories through 29 at-bats, with an average slightly above the Mendoza line at .207.

Gibbons, however, says he’s not worrying about the lack of production just yet.

“You look around baseball and there’s a lot of slow starts,” the Toronto skipper said prior to Tuesday’s game against the Astros. “You never know what’s going to happen. You can have a good spring training and struggle out of the gate, you could do nothing in spring training and come out to a good start.

“That’s just the mystery of baseball. No one knows why and you just deal with it.”

Hoping to spark some offence against a weak Astros team, Gibbons reshuffled his batting order Tuesday, bringing Adam Lind up to the two-spot and knocking Rasmus down to seventh.

Both left-handed hitters facing a left-handed starter in Brett Oberholtzer, Lind came into Tuesday’s game 4-for-13 with two doubles and a home run.

“Colby’s not producing much yet so we put Lindy up there,” Gibbons said. “Get him on base for those other guys. We’ll try it. We’ll see how the day goes.”

Both hitters were 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the Jays’ 5-2 win. But as Gibbons sees it, tomorrow’s another day.

“You gotta figure they’re going to hit, they always have,” Gibbons said. “Maybe tonight’s the night, and if not, maybe tomorrow’s the night.”

 

INJURY UPDATES

Closer Casey Janssen says he probably won’t be ready for live game action by Apr. 16, when he’s eligible to come off the disabled list.

The 32-year-old right-handed pitcher has been hampered by an abdominal strain since the end of spring training. He was placed on the 15-day DL Apr. 1.

“I feel like it could be gone but you don’t know because you don’t want to reaggravate it,” said Janssen, who’s scheduled to throw a side session on Wednesday. “It’s kind of like a hamstring or something else, you don’t know until you really test it, but if you test it too much you could have a setback and right now we’re trying to go forward as opposed to pushing a little too much.”

Janssen racked up a career-high 34 saves last season. He expects to get “one or two” rehab assignments before coming back to the Blue Jays bullpen.

_ Jose Reyes is also taking steps in the right direction, slowly testing out his hamstring by running on the treadmill and fielding ground balls.

“I’ll know better when I start running,” said Reyes, who isn’t sure when he’ll be back off the disabled list. “I’ll see how I feel, but for now I’m just going to take it day-by-day.”

 

NOTES: Gibbons also reshuffled his starting rotation, penciling in R.A. Dickey to start the third game of the Astros series (Thursday). The Jays manager said the move was focused on splitting up Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan. “They’re the two guys we’re watching a little bit. You put Dickey in the middle and he can eat up some innings.” Gibbons says the move had nothing to do with McGowan’s first start of the season last Friday, when the righty gave up four runs on 2 2/3 innings. ... Dave Trembley, bench coach for the Astros, has a Canadian connection — he played for the Kingston Ponies in 1974. ... Encarnacion is five home runs shy of 200 for his career. The Blue Jays DH/first baseman needs one home run to tie Fred McGriff for 10th on the all-time club list.

 

GETTING TO KNOW ... RP SERGIO SANTOS

My most memorable game:  [sergio-santos]

“One that pops out would be a high A-ball minor league game with the Lancaster Jethawks (against the Lake Elsinore Storm in 2003). I believe we played 18 innings, and I was a shortstop then so playing 18 innings was pretty insane.

“And the way we lost it, we scored in the top of the 18th and lost it in the bottom of the 18th so we played all that for nothing. That was not fun to lose after coming so far. Everyone was so exhausted that we couldn’t really be mad or disappointed, we were just really tired, but those are the games you want to win. When you’re there for five or six hours, you might as well win it.”

The best advice I’ve ever received:

“When I’m out there pitching, just to take it pitch by pitch, not to take it any further than that, don’t think about who’s on deck, what the situation is, just think about what you’re going to throw and you’re going to execute that.

“Mariano Rivera told me that in the summer of 2011. He knows a couple things about pitching so when a guy like that gives you advice, it’s best to listen.”

 

TOP CANADIAN IN THE MAJORS 

Ladner, B.C., native James Paxton pitched seven scoreless innings of two-hit ball in his first start of the season for the  [Paxton] Mariners — an 8-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Apr. 2.

The outing was only the fifth of Paxton’s major league career. He went 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA through four starts with Seattle last season.

Paxton started Tuesday’s game against the Angels, giving up three runs and striking out four in five innings, but was forced to leave the game in the sixth with a lat strain.

NOTES: Etobicoke's Joey Votto has gotten off to a good start for the Cincinnati Reds, hitting .286 through seven games. He was 2-for-3 Tuesday against the St. Louis Cardinals ... Port Dover, Ont., native John Axford is settling in well with his new team. The Cleveland Indians closer has three saves in three appearances so far this year, with three strikeouts and zero runs.

 

CANADIANS IN THE MINORS

THE GOOD:   [jeff-francis-louis]

Left-handed pitcher Jeff Francis (North Delta, BC) pitched six scoreless innings in his 2014 triple-A debut for the Louisville Bats, giving up four hits, and racking up six strikeouts.

Jamie Romak (London, Ont.) is hitting .444 through five games with the triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes, with two doubles, one home run and three RBIs. The 29-year-old had a 2-for-3 day Sunday.

Nick Pivetta (Victoria, BC) is 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA with 10 strikeouts through 10 innings for the Hagerstown Suns, the Class-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. Pivetta was drafted by the Nats in the fourth round last year.

 

THE BAD: 

Pittsburgh Pirates right-handed pitching prospect Jameson Taillon will have Tommy John surgery, the organization announced Sunday.

Taillon, who was born in Lakeland, Fla., and grew up in Texas, is a dual-citizen thanks to his family ties to Canada. The 22-year-old pitched for manager Ernie Whitt’s World Baseball Classic squad last spring facing Team USA.

He was drafted by the Pirates as the second overall pick — right after Bryce Harper — in the 2010 draft.

 

THE UGLY: 

Scott Diamond (Guelph, Ont.) was roughed up in his first start of the season last Thursday, leaving him with a bloated 18.00 ERA after just two innings of work in a 6-3 loss to the Buffalo Bisons. The 27-year old gave up five runs — four earned — on six hits and four walks.

Diamond lost out on the Minnesota Twins’ fifth rotation spot this spring, and was released by the team. After clearing waivers, the southpaw accepted an assignment with the Twins’ triple-A club rather than risk the unpredictable waters of free agency.

 

NOTES: In college ball, RHP Cal Quantrill (freshman) pitched eight scoreless innings for Stanford in its 1-0 loss to Oregon State University on Saturday. The Port Hope, Ont., native is 3-2 with a 2.60 ERA through eight starts. ... Ryan Kellogg of Whitby, Ont., (sophomore) is 3-2 with a 4.56 ERA through eight starts with Arizona State.

 

-- Follow Melissa on Twitter @ThrowinSmoke

ThrowinSmoke is Melissa Couto's weekly notes column on the Blue Jays, the major league and all that that entails plus a peak at Canadians as well.

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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.