Even though they have no choice in the matter, don’t expect to hear anyone associated with the Blue Jays grumbling publicly about their third home stadium in as many seasons.
Behind closed doors, it might be a different matter, because few who have made it to the show want to return to a low-level minor league venue. Ever.
Instead, the young Jays team will once again try to manufacture a home-field advantage from spartan TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla., the team’s spring training home for the past 45 years.
It worked in Buffalo in 2020, helping propel the Jays to an expanded post-season. Will their third home park in as many seasons carry the same charm?
The latest home away from dome era got off to a rough start on Thursday, as the Jays fell 7-5 to the Los Angeles Angels in 11 innings when reliever Rafael Dolis allowed a two-RBI bloop single to David Fletcher.
In the first of a seven-game home stand at the minor-league park, the Jays fell to 3-4 with their third consecutive loss. Though the two teams didn’t meet in 2020, Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and company now have won seven of their past eight against the Jays.
The Jays offence struggled at times as the swing-and-miss ways of the young team continued. Toronto hitters struck out 14 times, including Teoscar Hernandez, Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in the bottom of the 11th to end it.
Manager Charlie Montoyo is confident the offence will arrive soon, and he isn’t about to shake things up.
“If you start moving the lineup around after seven games, it’s a panic move,” Montoyo said. “I trust my guys. It’s just right now the whole lineup isn’t hitting.”
As you would expect from any facility that has been home to one of the lowest levels of pro ball, there will be some grumbling – from the home team and the visitors alike. It will play small, especially when the wind is blowing out, expanded clubhouses are under a tent and the lighting, while adequate, is below the standards of most stadiums.
From a Toronto perspective, however, what matters most is how they perform.
The Jays have every intent of making the best of the situation in a hitter-friendly stadium — which had a crowd of 1,348 in attendance on Thursday — not far from the off-season home for a number of current players.
And if it’s anything like 2020, it could be all in the mindset. Once the Jays got to Buffalo, they crafted a 17-9 home record and finished 6-1-2 in their nine series at Sahlen Field.
“Home-field advantage was less a byproduct of the field and more a reflection of our players attitudes,” Jays president Mark Shapiro told the Toronto Sun in an interview last month. “We sat in the clubhouse, (GM Ross Atkins, manager Charlie Montoyo) and I with a group of our leaders and we talked about it being basically a choice. We were facing challenges no one else was facing. It was easy to have a built-in excuse.
“Or, we could take that circumstance and turn it to our true advantage. It was something we embraced and it made as stronger and made us unique. We weren’t going to give into it.”
Thursday’s starter, Ross Stripling, said the Jays have been well-prepared for settling into their modest home.
“It’s not like we showed up this spring expecting to break in Toronto, so we knew and we were ready to roll with that,” Stripling said. “We’re not going to pout about it. We’re going to go out and play baseball games whether it’s 20 or 60. We have to use it as our advantage.”
It wasn’t a long wait for the first regular-season homer in TD Ballpark as sizzling hot Guerrero launched a two-run shot in the first. The Jays first baseman has now reached base in all seven games and is batting .348 on the young season … It was slim pickings after that, however, as the Jays went down in order from the second through fifth innings including a stretch when Angels starter Griffin Canning struck out six of seven … Canning’s night ended with the second batter of the sixth, however, a solo homer from Cavan Biggio … Guerrero drove in his third run in the sixth to give the Jays a 5-4 lead only to have the Angels tie it up in the sixth on an Ohtani single off of Jays reliever Jordan Romano.
NO BAITING TROUT
Angels perennial MVP candidate Trout facing Stripling was as big a mismatch as you’re going to find.
Trout dinged Stripling for a double in the first inning and then sent one out of the park with a solo blast in the fifth to give the Angels a 4-3 lead.
Did we mention blast? Trout’s latest homer was estimated at 444 feet and had an exit velocity of 110.6 miles per hour.
Stripling’s night was done after that inning, sparing him another visit from Trout, who now has seven hits in nine at-bats with the right-hander, three of them for homers.
“Trout owns me,” Stripling said. “He knows it. I know it. Maybe by putting it out in the atmosphere now it will put some luck back in my favour.
“He’s a matchup nightmare for me because he hammers the ball down in the zone and he hammers off speed in the zone which is my bread and butter.”
The latest injury to outfielder George Springer will keep the prized off-season acquisition for at least as long as the six-game road trip he missed to start the season.
Jays manager Charlie Montoyo revealed on Thursday that Springer has a low-grade strain in his right quad to go along with the almost healed Grade 2 sprain of his left oblique.
The prognosis remains in flux, but it’s almost certain he won’t be making his debut at TD Ballpark over the next week.
“I don’t see him playing in this homestand,” Montoyo said. “We just have to be careful.”
Speaking of careful, details of Nate Pearson’s recovery from a groin strain in the opening days of spring training have been elusive for weeks. Montoyo did acknowledge on Thursday that it will be a slow road for Pearson, who has to build up much as he would from the start of spring training.
AROUND THE BASES
Montoyo wouldn’t confirm it, but expect T.J. Zeuch to get the start for the Jays on Friday followed by Steven Matz on Saturday … Potential good news – the Jays won’t rule out Robbie Ray returning to action next week, possibly as early as Monday … Montoyo on labouring Rowdy Tellez, who is 0-for-17 this season and dating back to 2020, a career-long 0-for-24 slump: I’m a Rowdy believer. He struggled in spring training too but I know he’s going to hit. I know he’s working hard.”