Sunday, September 2, 2012

September 1: Rays 5, Blue Jays 4

Turnaround is fair play as Omar hugs Molina to end the game

Tom Szczererbowski / Getty Images

Yesterday's game featured two outfield assists including a fantastic game-ending play by Moises Sierra and Jeff Mathis to end the game. Unfortunately, the Rays executed poetic justice today, ending the game with their own play from BJ Upton to ex-Jay Jose Molina to tag out a pathetic-looking Omar Visquel in the bottom of the ninth.

The game featured number #5 starter Henderson Alvarez against the returning Jeff Niemann, who fractured his ankle on May 14 on an Adam Lind line drive.

Alvarez and Niemann looked excellent at the start, as Alvarez faced the minimum seven hitters while Niemann retired the first ten.

Alvarez's poor inning came in the 3rd. With one out, Ryan Roberts hit his 9th homer. Henderson then walked Loboton and gave up a single to Desmond Jennings. BJ Upton then hit a slower grounder to Hechavarria that should have been a double play ball. But Johnston's connecting throw to Edwin was very high and caused Edwin to jump for the ball, allowing Upton to reach and prolong the inning. With two out, Ben Zobrist hit a double to the right field corner, scoring Loboton. Alvarez then walked Longoria on four pitches, loading the bases, before giving up a double in the left-gap to Matt Joyce, scoring two. At the middle of three, it was 4-0 Tampa.

Jeff Niemann's comeback was stymied, though. With one out in the bottom of the 4th, Niemann was forced out the game with "arm tightness". It appears to be nothing serious. On came Howell. The Jays immediately took advantage as Colby earned a walk and Edwin hit his 36th no-doubt about it home run to the third level at the dome, a beautiful shot. Lind grounded out, but Torrealba singled and Kelly Johnston walked. At that point, Maddon had seemed enough and brought in Wade Davis to retire Moises with two left on.

Alvarez got into a bit more trouble in the fifth, allowing two to reach with one out before Evan Longoria hit into a double play.

Alvarez's line was not good. 5 innings pitched, 5 hits, four runs, all earned, and 4 walks. He threw only 86 pitches. Alvarez has had five quality starts in his last eighteen starts back to May 20, and is sporting an ERA of 6.37, a WHIP of 1.7, and opposing pitchers are hitting a .908 OPS off of him. His K/BB ratio was 4:3.

Matt Joyce scored a solo homer in the top of the 8th off Brad Lincoln to gave the Rays a 5-2 lead. It was Lincoln's first run scored against in 6 outings.

The Jays left it to the 8th inning to start its comeback. Hechavarria opened the inning with the double off of Peralta. Rajai then hit an infield single to move Hechavarria over to third. Colby struck out. Edwin was walked. Adam Lind then came through with a single to score two and get the Jays within one. Joe Maddon had seemed enough and brought in his closer with one one. Rodney then walked McCoy, but struck out Johnston and Sierra to end the 8th.

The game wasn't over though, and in the 9th, the Jays threatened again. Omar Visquel walked, and Hechavarria sacrified him over two second. Rajai then failed to advance the runner with a fly ball to center. Colby Rasmus then managed to turn over a 100mph heater to stroke a single to centre. Omar, with two out, was running on the pitch. But BJ Upton's throw home ended up a bit high after the bounce. Omar was coming behind Molina to slide into home, but Molina ended up stepping back to catch the ball, inadvertently blocking Visquel's path, causing him to go further outside to avoid a calamatous collision. Molina caught the ball and applied the tag to Visquel as he was crawling back to the plate. Game over.

So, some thoughts about Omar Visquel. His "clutch" baserunning is terrible. He got caught stealing 2nd against Valverde as a pinch runner on August 22, for example, but the alternatives left on the bench was Escobar and Mathis. Escobar might have been a better choice, but his baserunning leaves alot to be desired as well. In retrospect, Escobar would have been the better choice, but you have to give Tampa full credit for getting the out at home. Should Visquel have bowled Molina over? Maybe, but Visquel would have lost that battle too, and you can't expect a 45 year old hall-of-famer to bowl over the respected veteran. In fact, after the out, Visquel gave Molina a pat which was very sportsmanlike, and it appears that Molina had some (probably kind)  words to say to Visquel while he was trying to reach for home plate.

And some thoughts about Henderson Alvarez. I think it's time for him to be shut down. He had 155 innings pitched so far this year, after only pitching 63 major league innings last year (and 96 minor league innings). His outings have been inconsistent at best, and his numbers require alot of run support in order for the Jays to have a shot at winning. With his 5+ ERA (that is not improving) and short outings (less than 90 pitches on average), it's time to give Jenkins or Laffey a view. With respect to next year, it's questionable whether Alvarez would make it into the rotation.

Romero, Morrow and Happ are presumable locks. If the Jays sign Villanueva to a contract (and they should) and go out and get a free agent starter in the off season (which they better), then the starting rotation will be complete, and Henderson will either start the season as the journeyman in the bullpen (with lefty Perez) or in the minors.

Offensively, the Jays managed 7 hits and 7 walks against the Tampa pitchers. The Jays left 7 on base. Moises went 0-4 and struck out three times. Rasmus walked twice and got a key hit in the game. Johnson got no hits but walked. Everyone else got a hit.

Tomorrow's outing  features a battle of the aces. Ricky Romero came off a great start over 7 innings against the Yankees, allowing two runs and five hits over seven innings in a tough 2-1 loss. Romero will have his work cut out for him against nemesis David Price, who after 12 quality outings (1.56 ERA, .182 BA, .857 WHIP) had a stinker against the Yankees, letting in 6 runs over 4 innings.

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