By: Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
Bobby Mattick, the architect of the Blue Jays, used to ask young coaches the secret of being a good hitter.
“Timing,” he would answer and quickly moving on would ask “and what is the secret to success as a pitcher?”
Usually the 30-something would shrug or start to answer and Mattick would yell “messing up hitters’ TIMING.”
Jays hitters are not messed up. Yet they are also not where they were two months into last season.
After 55 games a year ago the Jays had scored 283 runs -- 33 more than the Texas Rangers.
They had 64 homers, second in the American League, three behind the New York Yankees. The Jays were hitting .263, third in the AL.
This season after 55 games the Jays have scored 232 runs, which is fifth best, 83 runs behind the Boston Red Sox, they have 69 homers (third) and are batting .239 (11th ... hey it took 10 good hitting teams to beat them).
Some blame Johnny Cueto.
Last year with the Kansas City Royals the right-hander would spin, turn, quick pitch, take a TV-time out, do a Luis Tiant impression where he would face the centre field stands ... before throwing his pitch.
And he would also do a version where he would barely come to a stop facing sluggers with high leg kicks like Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson.
“Guys will try to mix things up, have a quick stop and go to the plate,” said Bautista. “A lot of teams do it to us. Not the Yankees though. They are not concerned about pitch counts, with their bullpen all they want is outs.”
Bautista says he has noticed a change in the Jays success at the plate since the lineup was reshuffled. As the Jays won for the 10th time in 13 games with Bautista in the lead-off spot.
Josh Donaldson has noticed the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles vary their timing to the plate facing himself or Bautista.
“Guys with a leg kick got a quick pitch last year, will get one this year and they will get one next year,” said one veteran scout. “Hey, one of the best at messing with guys, going quick to the plate and changing the timing is R.A. Dickey.”
The more quick pitches a hurler throws the more danger he is of seeing the ball come back even quicker.
Alex Gordon was in the on deck circle in Game 1 of the World Series paying attention, his Kansas City Royals trailed the New York Mets 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth.
Closer Jeurys Familia quick pitched lead-off man Salvatore Perez and wound up getting a ground ball out.
Familia tried it again on a 1-1 pitch to Gordon and the Royals left fielder homered left going deep to centre at Kauffman Stadium, forcing extras.
The Royals won in 14 for a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Series, the point is the more often you quick pitch ... the more ready a hitter will be for the speed-up approach.
Another evaluator recalled Wednesday afternoon seeing the Jays six straight games -- three at home against the Tampa Bay Rays and three in Minneapolis facing the Minnesota Twins.
He didn’t see Rays or Twins pitchers hitting key spots.
The Jays dropped four of six, managing more than three runs once when they beat the Twins 9-3.
“It was pitchers pitching to pitchers strength, they were not pitching to a hitter’s weakness,” he said. “The No. 1 thing I saw in those six games was that other than Bautista, for the most part everyone was cold. That happens to hitters.
“It’s just rare when you see that many good hitters -- Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin and Donaldson -- all go cold at once. Kevin Pillar is an aggressive hitter but he was struggling then too.”
Five core players. Scuffling big-time. A bad recipe.
During that six game stretch, Encarnacion became to come out of the skid hitting ..304 (7-for-23), two homers, four RBIs, Martin hit .235 (4-for-17), Tulowitzki .227 (5-for-22) with two RBIs, Donaldson .176 (3-for-17) one homer, two RBIs and Pillar was hitless in 21 at-bats.
“That’s probably why Bautista suggested that he move to the top of the lineup,” said the scout as Bautista batted .333 (6-for-18), three homers, eight RBIs.
“Moving Ben Revere hurt them. They didn’t have a true lead-off man and Bautista is better suited for driving in runs than getting on base and scoring them.”
The scout said Bautista should earn points for moving out of an RBI spot as he heads into free agency.
“Should,” he said, “but won’t. It does show he is all about winning. Not everyone is like that heading into free agency.”
What lies ahead for Blue Jays hitters as they embark on a six-game trip to Fenway Park, home of the AL East leaders and Detroit’s Comeria Park
“Toronto is still going to be a factor,” said one scout, “I think they are dangerous. These guys are too good a group of hitters not to hit. Michael Saunders was a surprise. And I like the second baseman. Devon Travis could be an ignitor.”
And if they don’t hit.
“Maybe,” said the scout, “you see a sell off.”