DETROIT — From the Blue Jays clubhouse, you could hear the typical cheers and chants that go on after a series win. The Blue Jays took two of three games against the Detroit Tigers including Sunday’s 6-0 win and completed a 4-2 road swing through the Central Division. The flight back to Toronto would be a happy one.
It was also the first team plane ride for Gabriel Moreno, the Blue Jays’ top prospect who made his MLB debut on Saturday and whose presence on the team was the major storyline of the weekend series.
Here’s more on that, plus a few other takeaways from the Blue Jays’ wins in Detroit.
Gabriel Moreno gets passing marks from Blue Jays pitchers
The 22-year-old catcher got his first taste of the major leagues this weekend. He notched his first hit in his debut Saturday and he impressed with both his arm and his speed on the bases. Crucially, Moreno got positive reviews from the Blue Jays pitchers, too, including from starters Kevin Gausman and Ross Stripling, who were both throwing to him in a game for the first time this weekend.
On Saturday, Gausman complimented the in-game instinct Moreno showed in coming out for a mound meeting early in the game when the right-hander had uncharacteristically issued two walks in the first inning. In pre-pitch meetings, the Blue Jays had emphasized how good Gausman’s command typically is, so Moreno wanted to check in on his pitcher to make sure everything was all right.
“I didn’t even know he was coming and I turned around and he was there, kind of snuck up on me,” Gausman said, smiling. “But that’s just a good feel for the game. Obviously, I wasn’t as sharp in the first inning as maybe I normally am and so he feels confident and comfortable and he can come out and talk to me and that’s huge. I don’t know if I was 22 catching a guy with some time if I would do that. I don’t know. But pretty cool that he feels that comfortable with us that he can come and do that.”
Gausman also noted how Moreno “presents the ball really well to the umpire and you can see how he steals strikes down in the zone.”
The next day, Stripling similarly praised Moreno for his work behind the plate. While Stripling said he shook him off more than he has with any other catcher this year, he said that was to be expected in their first game together.
“The pitches he was calling a lot of times were great and I knew what he was thinking, I just might have been a little different, but as far as like his setups and where his glove was, he caught my bullpen the other day and took that right into the game — didn’t have to make any adjustments there at all,” Stripling said. “I thought it was great. He’s athletic. I was hoping maybe one of those guys would try to steal and I could watch him pop a 1.8 (time) and throw somebody out, but very impressed.”
After the game, the Blue Jays gave Moreno a victory shower in honor of catching his first big-league shutout. “Something I assume he’ll remember forever,” Stripling said.
Stripling rolling in the rotation
Since being called back into the starting rotation after Hyun Jin Ryu’s injury, Stripling has been dealing, mixing in all five of his pitches in any count, keeping hitters off-balance and, importantly, throwing strikes.
In his last two starts, he did not allow an earned run over 11 innings. He allowed only two hits, while striking out six and not issuing a single walk. Those two starts did come against the Royals and Tigers, so it’s been a soft transition back into the rotation, and he’ll face a much stiffer test in his next start, which will be against the New York Yankees.
But there’s been a lot to like about what Stripling has done so far when called into starting duty. In his seven starts this season, he has a 2.81 ERA. And with Ryu a ways away from returning, Stripling will have a lot of runway to keep it rolling.
Stripling’s versatility as a swingman is a bit of his blessing and curse. On many teams, he’d be good enough to be in the rotation full time. But with both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Blue Jays, he has often gotten into the rotation only when an injury or another unexpected instance called for it before returning to a long-man role in the bullpen. But Stripling’s been able to succeed in that swingman role for so long because he embraces it and recognizes its value. By now, he’s also used to the back-and-forth of the job.
“I’ve actually probably made more starts than relief appearances over the last few years so, if anything, I’m probably more used to rotation than the bullpen now, even though I went and spent a couple of weeks in the bullpen (last month), kind of just start getting used to it then you switch back,” he said. “But you just rely on experience. I’ve been there before, started games before and know what it takes to navigate through a lineup hopefully three times. So just kind of rely on that and go out there.”
Stripling said the key for him during his recent outings has been not getting too high and sticking to a consistent routine between his outings.
“Just try to stay even-keeled, which I think is a strength of mine that I’ve been able to maintain over my career, never too high or too low,” he said. “And just trust my stuff and my arsenal is good enough to get through any lineup and especially when I feel comfortable with any pitch like I did tonight, and just take it one outing at a time.”
Turning the page
In both of their series this road trip, the Blue Jays followed a loss with a win. Dating back to May 24 — roughly the point of the season where they got on their offense going — the Blue Jays haven’t lost consecutive games.
It’s that sort of consistency that would put them in a good spot later this year. More often than not, good teams — playoff-worthy teams — don’t let losses linger and snowball into more losses. Take Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Tigers, for example. The Blue Jays made a lot of hard contact and out-hit the Tigers nine to eight. Their expected batting average for the game was .356 compared to .311 for the Tigers. Yet they didn’t get the clutch hit when they needed nor did they get much batted-ball luck, so they came out on the losing end. The Blue Jays could have let the frustration linger after a game like that, but instead, Montoyo’s message afterward was simple.
“Keep swinging. Don’t get frustrated, keep doing what you’re doing, keep that approach because they’re going to fall,” he said.
On Sunday, the Blue Jays got to Tigers starter Tarik Skubal early, driving his pitch count up and logging seven hits — including a two-run bomb from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — and four runs on the left-hander and chasing him from the game after four innings. Santiago Espinal said the key against the left-hander was staying aggressive.
“We knew we had to come ready to get the series, we had to come aggressive,” he said. “Yesterday, we kind of weren’t aggressive enough and today we came with a good approach, good at-bats and a good plan for the pitcher, Skubal.”
MLB debut memories
In light of Moreno’s debut, The Athletic asked a few other players to look back on their own debuts and recall their lasting memory of the day.
Danny Jansen, Aug. 13, 2018, with Blue Jays at Kansas City
“It was getting a hit the first (at-bat) and then having Russell (Martin) get thrown out at home plate because Russell’s a guy that I looked up to and in spring training, always watching him. I enjoyed watching him play and it was just cool to be on the same field with him in my debut. And then yeah, getting that first hit out of the way the first at-bat was a big weight off my chest.”
George Springer, Apr. 16, 2014, with Astros in Houston
“Well, I was playing right field for the first time. I just remember just being out there and just thinking like, ‘I can’t believe I did it,’ and looking up I remember my first at-bat, I was facing Jeremy Guthrie, just looking up and you’re playing the Kansas City Royals who you’ve known, you’ve watched on TV, won the World Series, have Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, it was a pretty surreal moment that I’ll never forget.”
Teoscar Hernández, Aug 12, 2016, with Astros at Toronto
“When I hit the homer, as soon as I hit it, I know I got it. And just for me, it was like only me in that moment at the stadium. And it was a special moment … I didn’t hear the crowd. I didn’t see anybody else, it was just me running the bases by myself.”
Bradley Zimmer, May 16, 2017, with Guardians at Cleveland
“Just being in a major stadium for the first time, seeing my name in the lineup. And just looking around and knowing all the hard work and years you put in prior to get to that point paid off.”
Cavan Biggio, May 24, 2019, with Blue Jays at Toronto
“That first day was obviously very special for a lot of people, not only myself, so I just remember being really nervous to play defence. I was playing second base that night. And I just felt like the stadium just kept going up and almost felt like I was on stage a little bit. So that took a couple of innings to get used to.”
Likely starters for this week’s series
RHP Alek Manoah (7-1, 1.81) vs. RHP Kyle Bradish
LHP Yusei Kikuchi (2-2, 4.44) vs. TBA
RHP José Berrios (5-2, 4.73) vs. TBA
RHP Kevin Gausman (5-5, 2.67) vs. TBA
vs. New York
RHP Ross Stripling (3-1, 3.14) vs. LHP Jordan Montgomery (2-1, 2.70)
Manoah vs. RHP Jameson Taillon (6-1, 2.73)
Kikuchi vs. RHP Gerrit Cole (5-1, 3.63)
Recent series history
Finally, the Blue Jays get to play their division rivals, the Baltimore Orioles. The Blue Jays were scheduled to open the season against the Orioles, but the lockout delayed the start of the year. So they’re only just now meeting for the first of 19 games this season. Last year, the Blue Jays went 14-5 against Baltimore.
Meanwhile, the Yankees, the best team in baseball, return for another three-game series in Toronto. So far, they’ve outplayed Toronto this year, winning six of the nine games. That said, the Blue Jays have been swinging the bats better now than when they previously played the Yankees.
Buffalo Bisons (Triple A)
Infielder Tanner Morris was promoted to Triple A last week. In his first four games with the Bisons, he went 3-for-18 with three walks. Morris had impressed with his plate discipline with the Fisher Cats. He had the same number of walks (30) and strikeouts (30) when he was promoted. Recently, Blue Jays director of player development Joe Sclafani said of Morris, “He is always going to give you a good at-bat.”
New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Double A)
Hayden Juenger continues his strong season. The right-hander has not allowed a run in his last three appearances. In his last start, he threw four shutout innings, allowing just one hit. Of his 48 pitches, 34 were strikes. He has a 3.38 ERA in 37 1/3 innings with 46 strikeouts. Meanwhile, first baseman Spencer Horwitz has reached base in every game he’s played in June, including a nine-game hit streak. For the month, he’s hitting .400/.571/.733 with four doubles and two home runs.
Vancouver Canadians (High A)
Ricky Tiedemann continues his impressive rookie season. In his last outing, he went five scoreless innings, allowing just three hits, one walk and nine strikeouts. He now has a 0.46 ERA in four starts with the Canadians. On the position player side, left-fielder Davis Schneider, 23, is having a hot start to the month. In 11 starts, he’s slashing .410/.425/.846/1.271 with eight doubles and three homers.
Dunedin Blue Jays (Low A)
Third baseman Damiano Palmegiani is showing impressive power in the Florida State League. He’s homered in back-to-back games for Dunedin over the weekend and is now up to 11 homers this season, which ranks third in the league. Palmegiani is Venezuelan-born, but Canadian-raised and was drafted by the Blue Jays last year in the 14th round.
Ryu met with Dr. Neal ElAttrache regarding his left forearm strain last week, but the Blue Jays continue to gather more opinions.
Matt Chapman missed the last two games because of a sore right wrist. He irritated it while swinging the bat. After Sunday’s game, Montoyo said Chapman’s still considered day-to-day.
(Picture: Rick Osentoski/USA Today)