Brewers open 2017 at Rogers Centre, like 1989
By Andrew Hendriks
Canadian Baseball Network
After a lackluster start to their 2017 campaign, the Toronto Blue Jays return to Rogers Centre for the first time this season and will kick off a nine-game home stand on Tuesday against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Despite striking for early leads in four of their first six games, Toronto went 1-5 on the road after losing a third straight game to the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on Sunday.
On a promising note, the team received quality starts in all but two of the six games played on the road but general offensive inconsistencies including an overall 21.4 strikeout percentage and a .150 batting average with runners in scoring position left a razor-thin margin for error throughout the six-game stretch.
Additionally, the Blue Jays bullpen was missing a key contributor after Roberto Osuna was placed on the 10-day disabled list with an ailing back before the season opener in Baltimore. His early departure resulted in a restructuring of the relief corps and, in part, led to a heavier workload for such hurlers as Jason Grilli, Ryan Tepera and Joe Biagini, who has already amassed a total of 5 1/3 innings in only three appearances.
Osuna is expected to rejoin the active roster ahead of Tuesday’s tilt in Toronto. Caught up in the numbers game, it’s likely that Dominic Leone will be optioned back to Buffalo following Osuna’s activation.
Aside from the standings, the Blue Jays were also hurt in the personnel column as third baseman Josh Donaldson was forced from Sunday’s game after experiencing right calf tightness and lefty reliever J.P. Howell joined Osuna on the 10-day DL with what the club is calling a left shoulder strain. Donaldson missed a sizeable portion of the spring with calf issues and was only cleared to re-join the team in late March. In all, he accumulated only 16 grapefruit league at-bats before heading north to Montreal for a pair of exhibition games against Pittsburgh.
Despite their troubles, the angst of an early season slide could be eased if the Blue Jays were to get off to a strong start at home this week. Beginning with a quick two-game series against the 2-5 Brewers, Toronto will face a total of three teams on the home stand, two of which hail from the potent American League East.
In 2016, the Blue Jays fed off a total of 39 sell outs to go along with the best attendance record in the junior circuit and used those figures to help soar to a 46-35 finish while playing at Rogers Centre. For what it’s worth, they were 21-17 against divisional rivals at home.
“I think (being back here) is exactly what we need,” manager John Gibbons told reporters on Monday. “Seems live we’ve been gone forever.”
Making the trip north with Milwaukee is hard-hitting utility man Eric Thames who, through his first six games with the Brewers, is slashing .333/.429/.611 with a pair of doubles and one home run in 21 plate appearances.
Selected by Toronto in the 39th round of 2007’s June amateur draft, Thames spent parts of four seasons in the Blue Jays system before being dealt to Seattle in exchange for Steve Delabar in 2012.
Once regarded as a topflight outfield prospect, the Santa Clara, Calif. native bounced from the Mariners to the Orioles before opting to take his talents abroad. Appearing with the KBO’s NC Dinos in 2014, Thames became the first player in league history to hit for the cycle on two separate occasions during the same season. Later that year, he took home league Most Valuable Player honors after slashing a robust .343/.422/.688 with 37 home runs and 121 RBI across 125 games on the year.
His strong play in three straight KBO seasons helped net the now 30-year-old journeyman a lucrative three-year deal with Milwaukee last November. This trip north will represent his first appearance against his former club since September of 2012.
After more than a few setbacks, SkyDome formally opened its doors for baseball with a mid-summer matchup between the Blue Jays and Brewers on June 5th, 1989.
Home plate umpire Rocky Roe called a first-pitch strike before future Blue Jay Paul Molitor who then promptly picked up the initial hit (a double) inside the Concrete Convertible.
An inning later, Fred McGriff connected on a fastball from Brewers starter Don August and drove the offering high over the left field wall for the park’s first home run.
There were 48,378 fans on hand to watch Milwaukee ruin the party with a 5-3 clipping of the Blue Jays at their new state-of-the-art ballpark. Both Gary Sheffield and Glenn Braggs drove in a pair and Dan Pleasac fired an 1 2/3 scoreless en route to converting his 13th save of the season.
While players took cuts, got accustomed to the turf and met with the media on the field below, the Blue Jays front office staff claimed utility infielder Ty Kelly off waivers from the New York Mets on Monday afternoon.
Kelly, 28, has spent parts of the last two seasons in the Mets system and is coming off a year in which he hit .328/.409/.435 across 81 games with the Pacific Coast League Las Vegas 51’s.
Although the switch-hitting product of Dallas, TX can play multiple positions including first, second and third base, he’s seen the majority of his assignments split between left field and the hot corner since making his MLB debut in 2016.
For now, Kelly will report to triple-A Buffalo but could prove to be a valuable addition to the club should Donaldson require a stint on the disabled list.
In order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster, RHP Glenn Sparkman was transferred to the 60-day disabled list.
- Follow Andrew Hendriks on Twitter (@77hendriks)