The Blue Jays head out on a west coast trip that will take them to Anaheim and Oakland. But manager John Farrell might want to consider a sidetrip to Vegas or Reno on the day off next Monday.
Farrell rolled the dice on a plethora of lineup changes Wednesday and came up an 11-5 winner, as Toronto stole two of three games against the defending American League champs from Texas.
The boldest move saw him shift Kelly Johnson to leadoff while dropping Yunel Escobar, with just five hits in his previous 36 at-bats, to the two-hole.
Result: Johnson ripped a two-run homer and Escobar had a double, single and triple, driving home three runs.
Johnson’s sixth homer erased a 1-0 Texas lead in the third. Escobar’s bases-clearing triple came in a six-run fourth that opened an 8-1 lead for Ricky Romero.
“The two-run homer got us out of the deficit and Yunel … probably had the best day he’s had with the bat since the opener,” said Farrell who, with left-hander Matt Harrison going for the Rangers, also moved Edwin Encarnacion from DH to first base, got Ben Francisco into Encarnacion’s spot, and sat Adam Lind, who is batting (or more precisely not hitting) a lusty .136 against lefties this season.
That worked nicely, too. After the Rangers crept back to 8-5 against Romero, Encarnacion cracked a three-run homer in the sixth. Mixed in there were two hits by Francisco. Then, there was Rajai Davis, who started in centre for Colby Rasmus. It was Davis who might’ve started Harrison’s undoing.
The boxscore says it was Johnson’s two-run homer that put the Jays up 2-1. But give Davis an assist. J.P. Arencibia singled. He was erased on the front end of a fielder’s choice grounder but that left Harrison with the speedy Davis at first.
Dancing off the bag, Harrison threw over twice before even delivering his first pitch to Johnson. One pitch later he threw over again. When he did make his 1-1 delivery, Johnson slammed his second homer in two games off the facing of the second deck in right.
“Just trying to be boring and do the same thing at the plate every day,” said Johnson, laughing. “Anytime you beat some of the good teams in a series it gives you a big boost; a big high. It was definitely a big homestand.”
Farrell’s flip-flop at the top of the batting order might’ve seemed to come at an odd moment considering Harrison is one of the toughest pitchers in the league for left-handers. They’d combined for only a .085 batting average against him coming into the game. But Farrell noted the left-handed hitting Johnson is an anomaly in that he hits lefties better than right-handers.
“Kelly’s been doing such a good job of getting on base and with Yunel (hitting second) we can do a number of things in the small game, wthether its bunting or hit and run,” said Farrell.
How long he sticks with the new look, well, he was non-commital. “I wouldn’t call it a full shakeup but sometimes you put a guy in a different slot and he gets a fresh look. It worked out today.”
For Romero, as masterpieces go this one was more fridge art than Van Gogh.
He went eight innings, scattering six hits, to become the first Blue Jay since Scott Richmond to start a season 4-0.
But particularly ugly was a 15-pitch walk on the wild side.
After the Jays gave him an 8-1 lead in the fourth, Romero came out and walked the first three batters (on five pitches each) to start the fifth — including Texas’ eighth and ninth hitters.
“Just one of those things I couldn’t find (the strike zone),” said Romero, who saw all three walks score on a double and single that cut his lead to 8-5. “You try not to panic in those situations.”
Most games against the Rangers like that could kill a pitcher’s chances of leaving with a smile. Fortunately, with every starter not named Brett Lawrie getting on base, the offence gave him plenty of wiggle room. “The offence picked me up. They scored enough runs that I had a comfortable lead and all I had to do was go out and make some good pitches,” said Romero. ”That’s a tough team. You give them chances like that, they’ll take advantage of it.”
The five runs were the most Romero has allowed in a game this season. “(Ricky) I think battled with his rhythm most of the game, particularly the fifth inning with the three walks,” said Farrell. “After that he seemed to get his second wind.”
Davis has had to make the most of his cameo appearances this year. He has just 29 at-bats and when he did get the start Wednesday it was short-lived.
He got aboard both times in two at-bats, then had to leave after straining his left hip flexor in the fifth inning.
But he harassed Harrison on the basepaths and beat out an infield single and now has scored more runs (nine), then he has hits (six). There have also been four walks, three stolen bases and he can play all three outfield positions.
“He gives our bench a lot of flexibility whether it’s late in the game as a pinch runner, or against lefties,” said Farrell, who said the injury isn’t believed to be serious. Still, for Davis, it’s gotta hurt — in more ways than one.