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Blue Jays beat, 5/14

May 14, 2011 Comments off

Lind day to day; Nix ‘making progress’

By Jordan Schelling / MLB.com

MINNEAPOLIS — Blue Jays manager John Farrell gave updates on Adam Lind and Jayson Nix before Saturday’s game against the Twins, and little had changed with their respective injuries.Both are making progress, and both are still shooting to return on Monday.

While he was scratched from the starting lineup before Friday’s game, Lind — bothered by tightness in his lower back — still did some rehab work that night.

“He went through a full two hours of treatment, exercises and rehab last night during the game,” Farrell said on Saturday. “He felt a little bit relieved, as far as the soreness and the spasms as the night went along.

“He’s still unavailable for today, but I think it’s almost common for us to expect that there’s going to be some soreness after being in such intense spasms for the time that he was. He’s day to day.”

Farrell reiterated that the Blue Jays did not have a set date by which they would need Lind to return before placing him on the 15-day disabled list. The manager also pointed to Monday once again as when the club hoped to get Lind back in the lineup as the designated hitter.

Nix, bothered by a left shin bruise since April 23, got four at-bats on Friday in the first game of the Class A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays’ doubleheader against Fort Myers. Nix will stay in Dunedin through the weekend.

“He’s making progress,” Farrell said. “We recognize that some of the soreness and discomfort he feels in the leg is going to be a managed situation, at least for the near future, but I think he’s getting closer to being fully ready for game activity — or no restrictions, as far as his range.

“There are no restrictions running the bases; he slid aggressively into second base, but we just want to make sure that if there’s discomfort lingering, it’s manageable and it’s not a detriment more in the long term.”

Farrell: Hill must let hits come to him

MINNEAPOLIS — Since returning from a right hamstring strain on May 8, Blue Jays second baseman Aaron Hill had just four hits in 22 at-bats entering Saturday, good for a .182 batting average over his last five games.

Hill had one double, a walk, two RBIs and just a .477 on-base plus slugging percentage in that stretch. For the season, the second baseman is batting .226/.261/.274 with four doubles, no home runs and 11 RBIs.

It’s clear that Hill has been slumping at the plate; what does manager John Farrell make of the struggles?

“I’m seeing at times where he’s over-swung the bat, particularly in RBI situations — almost like he’s trying to go 3-for-1 in those spots,” Farrell said. “There have been some situations where he’s relaxed and put some good swings on the ball, much like he did last night, with the double.

“But there’s been, I think, a tendency to try to do too much in situations where there have been men on. He’s not gotten on top of a couple fastballs, and that’s where you see the ball in the air a little bit. To me, that’s a sign of over-swinging. That’s what I see.”

Hill also dealt with a quad injury during Spring Training that forced him out of several weeks of games before he returned in late March. From that return to his mid-April injury, Hill was in the Blue Jays’ lineup for less than a month before hitting the disabled list.

The lack of continuity for Hill is something that may have played a role in this season’s subpar performance at the plate.

“There can be the tendency to try to make up for time lost or try to get back into the groove a little bit quicker and force the issue, rather than continue to play the game and take what the opposing pitcher is giving you at a given time,” Farrell said. “And I think it comes from a place of just wanting to succeed.”

Instincts serve McDonald well at third base

MINNEAPOLIS — Blue Jays infielder John McDonald started his fourth consecutive game at third base on Saturday — an indication that manager John Farrell likes how the veteran fits at the position.

McDonald has been primarily a shortstop throughout his career, having played 469 games there, compared to 306 total games played at second base, third and left field. This season, McDonald was the Blue Jays’ primary second baseman while Aaron Hill was on the disabled list, but he has otherwise spent most of his time at the hot corner.

Last season, McDonald split his time nearly evenly between three spots, playing 23 games at second base and 19 apiece at third and shortstop.

Defensively, Farrell sees McDonald as the team’s best option at third base.

“He’s got great feet, great hands, a great inner clock that allows him to always seemingly get the ball in the right position, the right hop,” Farrell said. “Even the backhand play that he made last night — not an easy play with the game on the line. He’s done an excellent job for us.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Blue Jays beat, 5/13

May 13, 2011 Comments off

Lind scratched from lineup with back soreness

By Jordan Schelling / MLB.com

MINNEAPOLIS — Originally expected back as the Blue Jays’ designated hitter, Adam Lind was scratched from the lineup after feeling soreness in his back Friday afternoon.Lind, who has been out with a lower back injury since leaving Saturday’s game against the Tigers in the seventh inning, did some early work at Target Field before the club’s series opener with the Twins. During that work, Lind’s injury started to bother him again.

“He went through some on-field activity, took some ground balls and started to feel some soreness in the left side of the lower back when he was running the bases,” said manager John Farrell. “A little bit more of the pounding sensation that was starting to generate that, so we decided to scratch him.”

With Lind unavailable, Farrell was forced to shuffle his lineup, moving Juan Rivera from first base to designated hitter, Edwin Encarnacion to first base and putting John McDonald in at third. Lind’s absence from the lineup also left the Blue Jays with a thin bench once again, as David Cooper and Jose Molina were the only two available.

Farrell also noted that while Lind was coming off two good days of work, Lind’s return Friday would have been ahead of schedule.

“We felt all along that if we got him back in the lineup by Monday, that still gave us seven more days of activity rather than the two weeks on the DL,” Farrell said. “So we’re day to day. Until something else happens that we have to make a roster move or react to whatever might take place, we’ll address it at that time.”

Nix making progress, could return Monday

MINNEAPOLIS — Second baseman Jayson Nix could rejoin the Blue Jays on Monday in Detroit, manager John Farrell said before Friday’s game against the Twins.

After being rained out Thursday in Fort Myers, Fla., Nix began a rehab assignment with Dunedin, the Blue Jays’ Class A Advanced affiliate. Dunedin played a doubleheader against the Fort Myers Miracle, the Twins’ affiliate in the Florida State League.

“He had early work [Thursday], everything was progressing fine,” Farrell said. “We expect him to get the next three days with Dunedin, and then the potential of returning to us on Monday in Detroit is a real possibility.”

Hentgen mourns death of mentor Queen

MINNEAPOLIS — In the first year that Mel Queen was the Blue Jays’ pitching coach, Pat Hentgen had the best year of his career and won the American League Cy Young Award.

It was no coincidence, said Hentgen, the three-time All-Star, World Series winner and current Blue Jays bullpen coach.

“He taught me how to cut the ball, to throw a cut fastball,” Hentgen said. “He said the first couple starts if I didn’t have good command of my curveball, it’d be a rough grind for me. He said, ‘Why don’t you try throwing a little bit of a cutter or a true slider on days when you can’t throw your hook?’ And I went on to have the best year of my career.”

With Queen’s guidance, Hentgen won 20 games in 1996, with a 3.22 ERA and 177 strikeouts. His was the first of three consecutive AL Cy Young Awards won by the Blue Jays, with the latter two belonging to Roger Clemens.

Queen made a big impact on a number of Blue Jays during his time with the club. Among the bigger names to come through Toronto during Queen’s time there were Shawn Green, Carlos Delgado, Chris Carpenter, Roy Halladay, Woody Williams, Todd Stottlemyre and David Wells.

Not only did Queen help them on the field, he also made it clear that he cared about the players off the field as well.

“He just had a great way of communicating and making you feel confident,” Hentgen said. “I think he cared more about us off the field than he did on the field, and I think that’s one of the things as a player you really tend to respect a lot from a coach or a manager, is that they care about you as a person first and a player second.”

Hentgen, who was very close to Queen, reflected on their relationship before Friday’s game, in light of Queen’s death Friday morning. As important as Queen was to his career, Hentgen valued their friendship even more.

“Great coach, great communicator and a true friend,” Hentgen said. “Many times I spent fishing with him up at my place north of Peterborough, and it’s unfortunate, I lost a great friend.

“Lots of great stories, lots of fun, I’ll always remember him.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Zobrist’s eight RBIs propel Rays’ blowout

April 28, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — Ben Zobrist’s good week only got better on Thursday afternoon.

Entering Thursday’s Game 1, Zobrist had 15 RBIs for the season, eight of which had come in the Rays’ previous three games. With four hits, including a three-run home run, Zobrist put up a club-record eight RBIs in the first game of a day-night twin bill as the Rays rolled to a 15-3 victory over the Twins.

Zobrist’s eight RBIs broke the previous club record of seven, set by Carlos Pena in 2007.

“I did not know that,” Zobrist said of the record. “Any time you have that many RBIs, it’s because your teammates are getting on base for you.

“That’s a team thing, RBIs are.”

In the first inning, Zobrist helped the Rays get out to an early lead with an RBI single. In the sixth, he followed a pair of one-out singles with a three-run blast to right field for his sixth home run of the season.

Zobrist later added a pair of two-run doubles, in the seventh and in the ninth. With his performance, Zobrist was the first player in the Majors with eight or more RBIs in a game since Adam Lind did it for the Blue Jays on Aug. 31, 2009.

In his last four games, Zobrist has three home runs, and five homers in his last 11 games.

“He just came up at the right spots and didn’t miss,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon.

“Ben’s just not missing. He’s getting his opportunities, the at-bats have been working, and he’s done a great job with it.”

Of course, Zobrist was far from the only Rays player swinging the bat well. While the temperatures remained chilly at Target Field, the Rays’ bats stayed hot in a second straight easy win over Minnesota.

The first five batters did not get hits like they did Wednesday night, but the Rays got on the board early with a two-run first inning, and they didn’t stop there.

“Everybody kept having good quality at-bats,” Zobrist said. “We can be a very dangerous team up and down the lineup.”

Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn fared even worse than lefty Francisco Liriano did in the series opener, which was the opposite of what the Twins needed to open Thursday’s day-night doubleheader.

Blackburn lasted 3 1/3 innings, giving up seven runs — five earned — on eight hits and four walks.

“I just couldn’t throw strikes,” Blackburn said. “Everything I was throwing was going in the dirt. It was just one of those days. It’s not very often I have to tell myself to the get the ball up.”

After the two-run first, Casey Kotchman belted a solo homer in the second. In the third, a walk, single and two Twins errors brought in two more runs for the Rays, and in the fourth, Blackburn surrendered two more runs on a walk, triple and two singles.

Just as they did in Wednesday’s 8-2 victory, the Rays kept hitting even after knocking the starter out of the game, scoring in six of the first seven innings.

“It was a pretty good day for us,” designated hitter Johnny Damon said. “Hopefully we can continue this.”

Damon extended his hit streak to 15 games with a second-inning single, also notching a triple, two walks, a stolen base and three runs scored. Matt Joyce went 3-for-4, with two walks, two runs scored and one RBI. B.J. Upton also went 3-for-4, walking twice, driving in a pair and scoring three runs.

Overshadowed a bit by the Rays’ 15-run outburst, right-hander Jeremy Hellickson delivered yet another quality performance by a Rays starter on the mound. Tossing 6 1/3 innings, Hellickson gave up three runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and one walk.

Hellickson, a native of Des Moines, Iowa, which is about a 3 1/2-hour drive from Target Field, picked up his second straight win in front of about 100 friends and family members, improving his record to 2-2 with a 4.31 ERA.

As much as he was impressed by Zobrist, Maddon really liked what he saw from his rookie right-hander.

“It starts with Hellickson for me,” Maddon said. “Jeremy came out, we got some runs, and he held them in check and permitted us to keep batting on.”

Hellickson appeared to run out of gas in the seventh inning, which his manager attributed to all the sitting the right-hander had to do during the top halves of innings.

When asked about it, Hellickson didn’t have a problem with the long innings in the dugout.

“I’ll take those all day, every day,” Hellickson said. “I’ll sit in there as long as they want to stay out and hit.”

It was a true team effort for the Rays, as seven different players scored at least one run and every starter except for Sam Fuld and Kelly Shoppach hit safely at least once.

With the win, the Rays improved to 12-3 since April 10, the best record in baseball over that stretch. Maddon also improved to 417-417 for his career, the first time he’s been at the .500 mark since 16 games into his first season with the club in 2006.

Right now, Maddon is very happy with the way his team is playing.

“The energy’s there, the want to is there, and that’s all you can ever ask for as a manager,” he said. “I really like the way we’re going about our games right now. And I really believe it’s going to stay.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.