Back-up Carrera moves to forefront with bat

 Edwin Encarnacion, centre, whoops it up as Ezequiel Carrera is congratulated by Sportsnet broadcaster Hazel Mae on his four-hit day before an interview. Photos: Matt Antonacci. 

Edwin Encarnacion, centre, whoops it up as Ezequiel Carrera is congratulated by Sportsnet broadcaster Hazel Mae on his four-hit day before an interview. Photos: Matt Antonacci. 

 

J.P. Antonacci
Canadian Baseball Network
Ezequiel Carrera set the table for Blue Jays hitters to feast on Oakland pitching during a 9-3 rout of the Athletics Saturday afternoon in Toronto.

Pressed into service again with Michael Saunders still nursing a sore hamstring, Carrera had a career day atop the order. He reached base four times – a double and three singles – and scored three runs, with a stolen base added in for good measure. 

Even his sole out was a productive one, as he moved a runner over with a groundout. 

Toss in two diving catches in left field that got many of the 46,334 in attendance on their feet, and it’s no wonder the reserve outfielder told reporters Saturday’s win was one of the best games he’d ever played.

His manager said Carrera would be back in the leadoff spot on Sunday.

“Zeke’s been a good player for us,” John Gibbons said. “Last year he did a heck of a job for us, in a tough role to play.”

Paced by Carrera’s leadoff single against Oakland starter Chris Bassitt, the Blue Jays returned to the formula that helped them win so many games last year – score early, score often.

After Oakland’s Mark Canha opened the scoring with a solo shot in the first, Toronto responded with two runs in home half of the inning, and added three in the second on Josh Donaldson’s American League-leading seventh home run.

Donaldson was later plunked by Oakland reliever – and former Blue Jay – Liam Hendriks, a slight for which starter J.A. Happ appeared to retaliate when he hit Khris Davis to open the next frame.

Gibbons wouldn’t bite when asked if the Davis beanball was intentional, saying with a smile that he thought both pitchers had balls get away from them. 

With many fans and commenters worrying in recent days about Troy Tulowitzki’s continued struggles at the plate, the Blue Jays shortstop slugged two home runs – his third and fourth on the year – to the deepest part of the stadium.

Donaldson had four RBIs, with Jose Bautista plating two and Russell Martin, back in the lineup after a bout of neck spasms, driving in one.

Gibbons said scoring so many runs after a string of close games to open the season finally gave his club some breathing room.

“We definitely needed that today,” he said. “There’s so many guys who had big days. Good to see. We’ve been waiting for that kind of day, and hopefully we can build on that.”

The offensive fireworks all but overshadowed another quality start by Happ, who scattered seven hits and three runs over seven innings.

Gavin Floyd pitched a spotless eighth and ninth to lock down the victory.

With the win, Happ improved to 3-0 on the young season, while Bassitt took his first loss.

The solid game from Carrera came on the heels of Chris Colabello’s 80-game suspension for a positive drug test, and the club signing veteran outfielder Michael Bourn to a minor-league deal.

Gibbons reiterated that Saunders would remain Toronto’s everyday left fielder, but said Carrera would see his share of playing time over the course of the season.

“They’re both good players, and we’ll maximize both of them,” he said.

The Blue Jays snapped a three-game losing streak and ended Oakland’s run of seven straight road wins.

Sunday’s rubber match sees Blue Jays pitcher Drew Hutchison recalled from Triple-A Buffalo to make a spot start against Oakland’s Eric Surkamp.