It has been a long month for Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak in this hangover campaign from his breakout all star season of 2017.
Not getting the juicy offerings that he did a year ago from opposing pitchers – thanks to diminished firepower around him in the batting order – has made it a battle many nights.
The big first baseman got the Canada Day weekend started in style on Friday night, however when he rocked a fourth-inning offering over the left-field wall for his 10th round tripper of the season.
Never mind that it was Smoak’s first homer since June 3, the two-run shot was part of a three-run inning to take the lead over the visiting Tigers. It was all the runs the Jays would need in a 3-2 win over their struggling opponent.
The win improved the Jays record to 38-43 as they reached the midpoint of the MLB season.
Smoak’s shot came off of former Jays starter Francisco Liriano, who scattered seven hits over six innings, limiting the potential Jays damage.
The win kicked off a nine-game home stand for the Jays, including day contests Saturday, Sunday and Monday on this Canada Day holiday weekend. The reeling Tigers, minus star Miguel Cabrera for the season, dropped their 10th consecutive game.
Making his first home start since April, Marcus Stroman was solid in his second appearance back from a shoulder injury. The Jays starter scattered five hits over seven innings allowing just two earned runs and collected his first win of the season almost three months later than anticipated.
Stroman’s departure led to a stellar eighth for reliever Seung-hwan Oh, who struck out the Tigers side in order. Tyler Clippard pitched the ninth to earn the save for the Jays.
When Kevin Pillar drew a walk in the second inning it was his first of this month, a string of 106 plate appearances . . . Typical of the Jays run-scoring woes this season was the fourth inning when they sent nine batters to the plate yet managed to get just three runs across and left the bases loaded . . . The Jays recalled utility infielder Darnell Sweeney from triple A Buffalo to take the roster spot of Steve Pearce, who was dealt to Boston on Thursday night . . . Announced attendance on Friday was 24,168, kickoff to what is expected to be the smallest Canada Day weekend crowd in a number of years . . . When Stroman struck out James McCann in the fifth, it was his 500th career strikeout with the Jays . . . With the win, the Jays have captured six of their past 10 at home . . . Have the Jays found their new leadoff man? (Not necessarily.) But in his second crack at it (and 14th time in his career) Randal Grichuk responded with a pair of singles . . . Left is right? Tigers southpaw Liriano took the loss after the Jays had dropped 14 of their past 15 starts against left-handed starters.
SECOND START FOR BORUCKI
The finger pain of starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez is an opportunity gain for left-hander Ryan Borucki.
With no plans for Sanchez to return to the lineup thanks to the tenderness in his index finger, Borucki will get a second big-league start in the series finale vs. the Tigers.
“It’s not looking good for (Sanchez) for Monday,” Gibbons said. “I don’t know if it makes much sense anyway. (The finger) is still just a little bit tender.”
Borucki was solid in his debut on Monday in Houston when he allowed six hits and two runs over six innings.
The extreme temperatures expected this weekend have created a dilemma for Jays and Rogers Centre management with regards to the stadium roof.
To close it risks bumming out thousands of fans who want to spend Canada Day in the open air. To open it risks baking holiday weekend crowds in the middle of a heat wave.
For now, Saturday and Sunday will be game-time decisions. If the roof is open, however, there will be more water stations available to help fans keep their cool.
As for the Jays relief pitcher John Axford has put together a clubhouse playlist for the weekend, apparently 469 songs deep, all by Canadian artists.
AROUND THE DIAMOND
Jays GM Ross Atkins said that top-rated prospect Vlad Guerrero Jr. is “doing great” as he recovers from knee surgery and is a day or two ahead of schedule . . . Guerrero, meanwhile joined Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette among six New Hampshire Fisher Cats named to the Eastern League all star game . . . Atkins said the Jays considered re-signing Liriano in the off-season but the veteran wanted to be a starter and Toronto wasn’t willing to guarantee him that role . . . How about now former Jay Pearce, who in his first two at-bats for the Red Sox had a double and a single at Yankee Stadium? . . . Yes Buck Farmer is the real name of the Tigers reliever who came on to pitch the seventh on Friday. Try saying that 10 times fast at your Canada Day party.