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Bautista’s 13th homer sparks Blue Jays

May 14, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins could hold Jose Bautista without a hit for only so long.

After going 0-for-3 with a walk in his first four plate appearances on Saturday, Bautista came to the plate in the 11th inning with a runner on and no outs. Bautista connected with a 1-1 fastball, crushing a two-run go-ahead home run to right off reliever Jim Hoey, setting up a 9-3 Blue Jays victory over the Twins at Target Field.

Bautista’s home run was his Major League-best 13th of the season, and he has now homered 10 times in his last 20 games. In the clubhouse after the game, Bautista’s teammates marveled at the way he’s been hitting this season.

“I’ve never seen anything like it, other than Barry Bonds hitting,” said left fielder Corey Patterson, who scored on Bautista’s home run. “It’s impressive, it’s fun to watch and he’s a tremendous player.”

Bautista finished 1-for-5 on the day and has reached safely in 30 of 31 games this season, in 20 consecutive games and in 78 of his last 88 games, dating back to last season.

Bautista was intentionally walked in the eighth inning, raising his Major League-leading total of walks to 35 on the season.

“He’s ridiculous right now,” said catcher J.P. Arencibia, who hit his sixth home run of the season in the second inning. “He’s just so consistent; that’s why the results keep on coming. He’s got a good plan, he knows what he’s doing and he stays within it. If the ball’s out of the zone, he lays off it. If it’s in the zone, he crushes it.”

They may be biased, but do Bautista’s teammates think he is the best hitter in baseball right now?

“For sure, definitely,” Patterson said without hesitation. “It’s no doubt. He’s hitting home runs, he has a high average, RBIs, on-base percentage. Typically, guys that hit a lot of homers are going to be lacking in something, as far as average, but when you look across his numbers in all of the offensive categories, he’s up there in the tops of everything.”

One thing is for sure — Bautista is the last hitter that Blue Jays starter Jo-Jo Reyes would want to see coming up to the plate.

“I tell everybody in here, ‘That’s one guy I do not want to face,'” Reyes said. “People try to throw him in and he hits home runs, and then today they start going away and he hits a home run the other way. I guess throw the whole kitchen sink and see what he hits.”

Bautista’s blast sparked a six-run outburst for the Blue Jays in the 11th, as his homer was followed by two walks, a double, a single and two more walks. The Blue Jays brought 11 batters to the plate in the frame, and the first eight reached base.

If you ask manager John Farrell, though, Bautista would not have even had that chance if it had not been for Patterson’s big hits in the eighth and 11th.

“Obviously, it’s a huge home run to give us the lead, but if it wasn’t for Patterson’s triple in the eighth and the work of our bullpen, we might be looking at 3-2, advantage Minnesota,” Farrell said.

Patterson’s triple tied the game in the eighth and was the second straight hit for the Blue Jays after Twins starter Nick Blackburn had retired 17 in a row. In the 11th, Patterson led off with a single, which set the table for Bautista and the Blue Jays’ six-run inning.

As Farrell mentioned, the Blue Jays’ bullpen also performed admirably, holding the Twins scoreless for 5 1/3 innings. Jon Rauch pitched the ninth and 10th, allowing just one hit while retiring six of the seven batters he faced to pick up his second win of the season.

The Blue Jays also extended their winning streak to four games, while lefty Jo-Jo Reyes extended his winless streak as well. For Reyes, going one more game without a win was fine, so long as the team got a victory.

“Our main goal is to keep the team in the game and give them a chance to win,” Reyes said. “Obviously, that happened today. The only frustrating thing about this outing was that leadoff walk in the first. That’s the only thing I have negative to say.”

Many times in his nearly three-year span without a victory, Reyes has pitched well enough to win, only to be outdone by an opposing starter. While Reyes did not have his best stuff on Saturday, that once again was the case, as he settled for a no-decision.

Reyes allowed three runs (two earned) on 10 hits over 5 2/3 innings, striking out six and walking one. But he was outpitched by Blackburn, who gave up three runs (two earned) on five hits over 7 2/3 frames, while striking out a career-high eight batters and issuing just two walks.

To pitch as well as he did and come away with a no-decision after allowing two eighth-inning hits was disappointing for Blackburn.

“It’s pretty tough,” Blackburn said. “It’s a frustrating way to end the day for myself. I went out there and jerked a pitch and left it over the plate for a triple. But I still felt like I went there today and made some good pitches, but the way it ends is pretty frustrating.”

A big first inning for the Twins and a big game by right fielder Michael Cuddyer were enough to extend Reyes’ streak to 26 straight games without a win.

Walking the Twins’ first batter of the game came back to hurt Reyes, as center fielder Denard Span later scored on an error by first baseman David Cooper that followed a Justin Morneau infield single. Shortstop Trevor Plouffe also scored one batter later on Delmon Young’s sacrifice fly to center field.

Cuddyer went 3-for-5 with a solo home run in the sixth, but even the homer came on a good pitch down in the zone from Reyes.

“It kills me, because he’s pitched so well for us,” Arencibia said. “But you know what? We haven’t really scored for him. He did what his job was. Other than that first inning, that run that scored that really shouldn’t have scored, he pitched his butt off again.”

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

After flirting with history, Romero twirls gem

May 13, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — After being on the losing end of a no-hitter last time out, Ricky Romero took a run at a no-hitter of his own Friday. The southpaw came up short, but he dominated the Twins in his best outing of the season.

Romero held the Twins hitless through 5 2/3 frames, before giving up a pair of singles. He allowed just two additional hits in his 8 2/3 innings of work as the Blue Jays picked up a 2-0 win at Target Field.

“Ricky was outstanding tonight, there’s no doubt about it,” manager John Farrell said.

With a runner on in the ninth, Romero was one out away from his second career shutout. But after getting Delmon Young to hit the ball on the ground, it was just beyond the reach of second baseman Aaron Hill.

That forced Farrell to call in his closer.

“He handled Young in the first two at-bats, and I felt like he’s up two, and in the worst-case scenario, he’s not looking at a loss,” Farrell said. “But that was his last hitter he was going to face, regardless of what happened. After that, it was a matter of us finishing out the game and winning it.”

With the potential for a loss at that point even after such a dominant performance, would Romero have liked to stay in there to finish it out for his fifth career complete game?

“Absolutely,” Romero said. “I think that’s your goal any time you’re a starter — you want to finish what you started. I felt good, and obviously you understand why you’re coming out in that situation.”

Despite collecting 13 hits in the game, the Blue Jays managed just two runs, while leaving 14 runners on base and going just 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position. Corey Patterson scored the first run for Toronto in the seventh, on a Juan Rivera single.

In the ninth, Jose Bautista smacked his 12th long ball of the season on a 3-2 fastball from Twins reliever Joe Nathan.

“I was just looking for a good pitch to handle, something to hit,” Bautista said. “He gave me a lot of them, I just kept fouling them off. That one, I just got ready a little bit earlier, and luckily he threw a fastball middle-in and I was able to connect well with it.”

With the win, Romero improved to 4-0 in five career starts against the Twins, including the Blue Jays’ 13-3 victory on Opening Day at Rogers Centre. Romero has allowed just eight earned runs on 33 hits in 38 innings of work against the Twins.

The dominant outing for Romero came after he had his shortest outing of the season against the Tigers last Saturday, when he went just 3 1/3 innings and allowed six runs as Justin Verlander no-hit the Blue Jays.

“I prepared well all week to kind of get to this point,” Romero said. “After a little rough outing, I think it motivates you even more to come out and just have a good outing for the team and for a much-needed rest for the bullpen.”

Romero pitched that game on seven days’ rest after his start was bumped back due to an oblique injury, but he was on regular four days’ rest on Friday against Minnesota. The lefty faced the minimum through three innings, and he had allowed just two baserunners — both on walks — through 5 2/3 innings.

Center fielder Denard Span ripped a single through the infield to left for Minnesota’s first hit of the game in the sixth, and was followed by shortstop Trevor Plouffe, who beat out a weak grounder for an infield single. Romero got out of the inning with a grounder to short to keep the Twins off the board.

Romero struck out eight batters against just three walks.

He primarily used his fastball throughout the game, only mixing in offspeed pitches as necessary.

“It was unbelievable,” catcher J.P. Arencibia said of Romero’s performance. “What’s crazy is he threw probably 80-85 percent fastballs and he commanded both sides of the plate.

“He’s got so many different weapons. One day, maybe his changeup is on and everyone’s just swinging at his changeup, or his breaking ball. But today, he threw cutters and sinkers, and his ball was moving so much in the zone that it’s really all he needed to do.”

For the Blue Jays, the shutout was the first for the club since Sept. 23, 2010, against the Mariners.

The win was Toronto’s third straight, the first time this season the Blue Jays have won three in a row. Now they’re looking to improve their hitting with runners in scoring position.

“Yeah, we hope so,” Bautista said, “and not necessarily bang out that amount of hits like we did tonight and get all those baserunners. Just cash in and get the timely hits when runners are on base. That would be huge; I know our pitching staff would appreciate it if we could score more runs, so hopefully we can get the offense rolling.”

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