BRADENTON, Fla. – After Eric Thames looked good against the Pirates in the Blue Jays’ Grapefruit League opener, Travis Snider followed suit the next day, knocking in three runs and making a few heads-up plays in an 8-5 victory over Pittsburgh at McKechnie Field Sunday afternoon.
Rajai Davis and Snider led things off with a single and double, respectively, before Ben Francisco lined a hard-hit ball to Pirates left fielder Alex Presley–who juggled the ball and nearly dropped it before making the out–that scored Davis on a sac fly.
With third base having been freshly vacated, Snider, stretching his lead on second base behind the back of Pirates starter Erik Bedard, broke for the hot corner and swiped the bag ahead of Bedard’s late throw. The decision was a valuable one, as a Brett Lawrie groundout turned out to score Snider and put the Jays up 2-0.
Jays starter Aaron Laffey, filling in for Henderson Alvarez, worked almost exclusively inside to Pirates right fielder Nate McClouth before striking him out looking on a pitch outside. McClouth, a left-handed hitter, had reason to be upset with the call, as the pitch was in the right-handed batter’s box and well off of the plate. Laffey got star Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen to swing over the top of an inside pitch for the inning-ending strikeout.
In the top of the second frame, after Adeiny Hechavarria, a right-handed hitter, worked the count to 2-2, he was punched out by home plate umpire Tom Haillon on a pitch that was in an identical pitch to the one that retired McClouth the previous inning.
After tossing a perfect first inning, things were rougher for Laffey in the second. Former Blue Jay Rod Barajas led things off with a single and eventually advanced to second on a slow roller from Matt Hague a foot inside the third base line that Lawrie charged but didn’t make a play on. With runners on first and second, Chase d’Arnaud (yes, brother of Blue Jays prospect Travis) slapped a single to right field that wound up scoring Barajas. Francisco fielded the ball clean and launched an accurate throw, but it was well short of the plate. Cooper watched the ball bounce at his feet and trickle to Jays catcher Jeff Mathis, who couldn’t make the tag in time.
With the Jays leading 2-1 after a pickoff from Laffey ended the Pirates’ second-inning threat, Snider led off the third and fouled a ball right into the press box that apparently hit both Alan Ashby and Mike Wilner. As Wilner tweeted shortly after, Ashby’s broadcasting was unaffected despite the incident.
The Jays were held off the scoresheet in the third, but it was encouraging to see Lawrie, who followed up Francisco’s bloop single to right field with one of his own, aggressive on the base paths once again. After bolting to second base on a fouled-off hit and run attempt, Lawrie successfully swiped the bag on the next pitch.
Darren Oliver made his spring debut in the third inning for the Jays and gave up two singles to the first two batters he faced before striking out McClouth on a pitch outside pitch off the plate. The, with one out and the bases loaded, Barajas roped a ball down the left field line that scored two and put the Pirates up 3-2. But Snider, knowing full well he wouldn’t be able to get McCutchen in time at third, fired a rocket of a throw to second base in a heads-up play that nailed Barajas who, as Snider put it after the game, was “dumptruckin’” around first base.
Francisco Cordero came in to pitch the bottom of the fourth for the Jays, who managed to put together a two-out rally in the top half of the frame to retake the lead 4-3. He worked a perfect frame, quickly retiring the side in order but not before I felt like Ashby and Wilner myself, as Pirates shortstop Anderson Hernandez fouled off a pitch that blew right by my head in the press box!
Then in the top of the fifth, after Lawrie led things off by hustling down the line and almost beating out the routine throw on a groundout, David Cooper fouled off a few balls—one of which was the third to make its way into the press box—before striking out.
Up next, replacing Davis was Anthony Gose, who hit a hard single to right field that was bobbled by the outfielder and was able to leg it out into a double, despite not looking like he was running 100% at all. Then, with Snider grounding out to oblivious Pirates reliever Evan Meek covering first base, Gose bolted around third base and wound up scoring on the play – a true testament to his speed.
One pitch into Sergio Santos’ debut in the sixth, play was briefly delayed because a cat ran onto the field, but he managed to get a deep fly out to right field on his next pitch, one that was caught at the wall by Moises Sierra (pictured) who had just entered the game.
After Ricardo Nanita made a running basket catch in deep left field for the second out of the inning, a displeased Santos bore down to strike out Pirates hitter Matt Hague on a ball in the dirt. Santos’ appearance wasn’t a dominant one, but it was easy to notice the life on his fastball and nice to see his nasty slider in person.
Jays reliever Robert Coello didn’t have the kind of day that he wanted in the bottom of the seventh, as he gave up a wind-carried solo home run to Pirates hitter Nick Evans before walking Yamaico Navarro and hitting Jordy Mercer.
Coello, throwing hard inside to right-handed hitters, finished the day having allowed two earned runs on two hits with a walk, though it could have been much worse.
The final two innings of the game were fairly straightforward, as both Chad Beck and Jesse Chavez were able to work around pairs of walks to finish with scoreless outings. Jays minor leaguer Brian Bocock was picked off by Pirates reliever Daniel Moskos in the ninth and Diaz, who turned a couple of slick defensive plays Saturday in Dunedin, recorded the final out of the game on a great diving stop at third base.
Up next for the Jays, Henderson Alvarez makes his spring debut on the road against the Tigers, with Drew Carpenter, Evan Crawford, Jesus Figueroa, Jason Frasor, Jerry Gil and Jim Hoey scheduled to pitch as well.