TORONTO — Forget what the calendar says. It’s May 3 and tonight will be the 30th game of the Blue Jays’ season. There will be 132 more after it.
But the panic button has officially been pushed at Rogers Centre.
All that promise of the winter: Gone. All that chatter about some 1993 redux I heard for more than a week at spring training in Dunedin, Fla.: Gone. Pretty stunning, eh?
In the wake of Thursday’s loss to the Boston Red Sox, the Blue Jays are 10-19 and they just aren’t hitting. Their defense is a train wreck. The big-money starting pitching has an AL-worst five wins, a 5.33 earned-run average and is cashing checks it doesn’t deserve.
And as they prepared for Thursday’s game, there came these two stunners: Josh Johnson is going on the disabled list with triceps inflammation, and former ace Ricky Romero has been recalled from Class A Dunedin to pitch here tonight against Seattle, which is throwing ace Felix Hernandez. Good luck to ya.
Romero was an all-star in 2011 but his 5.77 ERA and 105 walks last year were worst among big-league starters. That 13-game losing streak was pretty ugly, too.
Still, the 28-year-old lefty was all set to be the No. 5 starter this year and push J.A. Happ to Buffalo before Happ flourished in Florida and Romero lost his way with delivery issues.
In their final week in Florida, the Jays finally admitted the obvious and kept Romero behind at the extended spring camp while taking Happ north. Romero has thrown side sessions and simulated games and went six innings in his lone game action last week.
And now he’s ready for the big leagues? After one start against the Brevard County Manatees? Without even first seeing some veteran hitters in Buffalo? Don’t buy it. They shouldn’t be selling it.
“If we didn’t feel good about it and he didn’t feel good about it, he wouldn’t be coming,” manager John Gibbons insisted during his daily briefing with reporters. “He’s been around the league a while. He’s had success. It’s not like he’s a greenhorn battling that.”
The Blue Jays sent a bad message to the Bisons’ clubhouse with this move, although Gibbons said Romero was the No. 1 choice over anyone in Buffalo like Dave Bush or Claudio Vargas. But the far deeper issue is the corner they’re now painted into with Romero.
He might pitch well tonight and everything will be fine. But if he blows up, where will he be then? Or what about one good outing and then a bad one next week at Tampa Bay? Mechanics were an issue and so was confidence.
A fragile Romero is precisely what this team doesn’t need at this point. The Blue Jays are now 10.5 games out in the American League East – in even worse shape than the greenhorns in Houston and Miami find themselves. But at least those two teams were expected to be in that spot.
Jose Reyes missed his 19th straight game after wrecking his ankle on a goofy slide into second base April 12 in Kansas City and that’s been the flash point for the slide. The healthy players in the lineup are struggling.
Incredibly, the Blue Jays’ starters Thursday did not have a single player batting over .245. Jose Bautista came into the game at .195. Melky Cabrera was at .243.
They came into Thursday batting just .199 at home with runners in scoring position. Classic example? They loaded the bases in the third on three walks and up came cleanup man Edwin Encarnacion, tied for the AL lead in home runs with nine despite a .229 average.
Encarnacion got ahead in the count, 2 and 0, but couldn’t help himself. He jumped on Ryan Dempster’s next pitch and pounded a ground ball to short for his second double-play grounder of the game.
Bad luck at times, sure. But bad execution and bad thought processes. That’s been Blue Jays baseball thus far. Meanwhile, the Red Sox and Yankees are a combined 37-18. Not what the pundits thought.
Gibbons said Thursday he’s going to stop tinkering with the lineup, meaning Brett Lawrie still stay in the leadoff spot with Adam Lind second and J.P. Arencibia fifth.
“When Reyes went down, that threw a wrench in it, no doubt,” Gibbons said. “But still, it hasn’t been that much where we looked at and thought, ‘You know what? We don’t like the way this looks.’ ’’
The Blue Jays don’t like how Johnson looks either. Gibbons said an MRI was clean but Johnson was headed to Florida, likely for another, because he still has pain in the elbow.
“Maybe he had a bad MRI machine, I don’t know,” the skipper said with a pained smile.
Given the way this season has gone, that would hardly be surprising.