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BOSTON — Does Ross Atkins like the look of a 3-8 record after 11 games? Probably not, but it’s well down his list of concerns.
Did the Blue Jays general manager like the look of some of the uglier of the MLB-leading 111 strikeouts his team has so far, the ones were certain Toronto hitters looked like they were attempting to invent a new swimming stroke?
Of course not, though such growing pains are fully expected for a 2019 season that, by definition, is not meant to be competitive in the American League East standings.
If there were some naive among Jays fans that this team would even sniff at contending for a playoff spot, reality has already taken root.
During the just-past 11-games-in-11-days stretch, the team got its opening home stand out of the way, dealt Kevin Pillar to the San Francisco Giants and got swept in four mostly non-competitive games in Cleveland.
Other than the extreme temperature of the ice-cold bats, the plan is in place to proceed to the next stage of the blueprint.
Pointing to a handful of teams that have had success in similar models in the recent past, Atkins believes the opportunity-to-play portion of the rebuild is an important one.
“When you don’t fill all of your holes through free agency or really aggressive trades for the names on the back of jerseys, you end up creating names on backs of jerseys,” Atkins said. “This is a year when we can do that. We’re going to have a great story. There’s going to be somebody. And as a team, you’re not always in a position to do that.”
Monday was a day off in Boston for the Jays, their first day without a game since the season began. They’ll face the struggling Red Sox on Tuesday afternoon amid the pomp of the World Series’ champion’s home opener.
There will be days when the young group fielded by Charlie Montoyo will be overwhelmed. But for now, anyway, the kids will have to learn to walk on their own.
“We could even get younger as guys from triple A hopefully start to transition (to the big league team,)” Atkins said. “Just so much depends on health. But our hope is that we continue to become a younger but, at the same time, a more experienced roster.
“It’s important that guys are developing, that guys are getting their reps and transitioning. We don’t believe you have to be a complete finished product to come to the major leagues because there’s always development left.”
David Price has been with the Red Sox long enough to feel the wrath of the demanding sports fans in this championship city.
But having lived through it — he was even jeered at home at one point during last year’s World Series run — Price expects to see the sunny side of the Fenway faithful here on Tuesday afternoon.
The Red Sox limp home as the last team to play their home opener, bringing with them a 3-8 record. Starting pitching has been a disaster, the offence has been misfiring and already they are 4.5 games behind AL East-leading Tampa and three behind the hated New York Yankees.
So what will the reaction be for Tuesday’s Fenway matinee vs. the Blue Jays?
“I don’t think anybody has gotten their World Series rings and gotten booed,” Price said in Arizona before the team returned home. “We just need to get back home and have our fans remind us of how good we are.”
It will be a festive-though-frigid day at the Back Bay ballpark. An hour-long pre-game ceremony prior to 2:05 p.m. first pitch will include the presentation of those World Series rings and an opportunity to compare baubles with members of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, several of whom are expected to be in attendance.
WHAT ABOUT BO?
With the questions of Vlad Guerrero Jr.’s promotion to the big leagues temporarily tempered due to injury, Bo Bichette is on deck as the lead man among fan clamourers.
So what if Bichette continues to thrive in Buffalo, much as he did in Sprint Training where he was deemed by many to be the best Jay in Grapefruit League play?
Atkins said promotion this season is a definite option.
“Absolutely. There are a lot of players who could play their way into this and that’s what we would prefer,” Atkins said. “We want that to happen. We want players to make decisions hard for us.”
PILLAR MOVES ON
The tears shed during his departure have dried and Pillar has moved on. So much so that it seems the former Jays centre fielder directed some shade on his former club.
“It was the most fun I’ve had on a baseball field this year,” Pillar said following a win over Tampa Bay in San Fran on the weekend. “Coming in after a win to see this environment was something I haven’t experienced in all my years in the big leagues.”
Pillar didn’t stop there when asked to explain.
“You just see guys genuinely happy for each other,” he said. “There’s no one who’s feeling sorry for themselves after struggling at the plate a little bit or maybe not getting some outs on the mound.”
On Monday, Pillar posted to Instagram with a lengthy public thank you to Jays fans. He also singled out former executives Paul Beeston and Alex Anthopoulos, but nothing on the new regime.
How’s this for interesting pitching matchups for the two-game series vs. the World Series champs: On Tuesday, Matt Shoemaker with a 2-0 record and 0.00 ERA faces Red Sox lefty Chris Sale at 0-2 and 8.00. On Thursday it’s Aaron Sanchez (1-1, 1.64) vs. Nathan Eovaldi (0-0, 8.10.) Much of the Sox struggles can be traced to the 9.13 ERA from its starting rotation, the worst in the majors.
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