BRADENTON, Fla. — Travis Snider, Luis Valbuena and Yan Gomes all homered as the Blue Jays slugged out an 8-6 victory against the Pirates on Tuesday afternoon in a split-squad affair at McKechnie Field.
With the other half of the Jays’ squad playing against the Red Sox in Dunedin, the game against the Pirates was a great opportunity to see prospects from different minor league levels play in the same game.
After Yunel Escobar made a pair of great throws in the bottom of the first, Adam Lind led off the top of the second with a groundout to Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison, who was able to throw him out despite bobbling the ball since it looked like Lind wasn’t hustling down the line as much as he could have.
David Cooper roped a long single to the corner in left field, where he stumbled slightly while motoring around first base, contemplating taking second. Later in the frame, Moises Sierra hit a “ground-rule double” that rolled down the left field line and into the bullpen by the entrance to the clubhouse, out of play. Despite the two hits, the Jays didn’t manage to score.
After getting ahead 1-2 to leadoff hitter Garrett Jones, Drabek pitched himself into a full count after two consecutive high balls but managed to strike him out swinging on a great fastball low and inside. In the next at-bat to Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez, though, Drabek got himself into another full count and paid for it, as Alvarez knocked a wind-carried, opposite-field solo home run to left to put the Pirates up 1-0.
Then, after giving up a deep double to Clint Barmes on an 0-2 pitch, Harrison ripped a double of his own to put the Pirates up 2-0. After a pickoff attempt from Drabek, Harrison stole third after Blue Jays catcher Travis d’Arnaud‘s throw was high and to left of the bag in foul territory. Drabek’s emotions might have been getting to him, as he walked Mike McKenry on five pitches to put runners on the corners. Since McKenry was the fourth consecutive batter to reach base in the inning, it prompted a mound visit for Drabek.
After he got a bit of a break with Pirates pitcher Jeff Karstens laying down a bunt to advance McKenry to second, Presley knocked an RBI single to left that only scored one, since McKenry was thrown out trying to score from second on a fantastic throw from Travis Snider and an equally great tag from d’Arnaud in a collision at home plate.
Promising right-hander Drew Hutchison came in to pitch the third where, after getting Jose Tabata to fly out to right he benefited from another great throw by Escobar to hit an outstretched Cooper at first base to get speedy Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen in a bang-bang play at the bag. After angrily staring straight ahead following the home run that he gave up to Jones, Hutchison struck out Alvarez swinging to end the inning.
The Jays put together a two-out rally in the top of the fourth, where Cooper drew a walk and advanced to second on a passed ball before Rajai Davis stroked a single to right. Cooper, hustling once again around third and thinking home the whole way, he was held up by the Jays’ third base coach. A walk from Sierra after being behind 1-2 set up a bases-loaded situation for Mike McCoy, who flew out to shallow center to end the threat, keeping the Jays off the scoreboard.
Outside of a double to Harrision, Hutchison pitched a scoreless bottom of the fourth, keeping the ball down in the zone and using primarily off-speed pitches. After a flyout to Sierra, he showcased his cannon of an arm, launching the ball to third base with only a short bounce amid “oohs” and “ahhs” from the crowd to prevent Harrison from tagging.
The Jays’ offense broke out in a big way in the fifth, with Brian Bocock hustling out a leadoff triple and scoring on a single from Escobar. Then, after Luis Valbuena came on as a pinch runner for Escobar, Snider hit a towering home run over the right field wall to make it a 4-3 game. Snider had looked great in BP, hitting five consecutive balls to deep right field and three over the fence, and it seemed to have rubbed off on him in-game because his home run was an absolute moon shot. D’Arnaud roped a double down the third base line before Lind singled him home to tie the game at four.
Deck McGuire came in for the bottom of the fifth, and he was looked the best out of the Jays pitchers on the day. He threw the ball low in the zone, keeping hitters honest with his circle changeup while bringing his fastball, which looked great. He was the victim of a great leadoff at-bat against Tabata, who kept fouling pitches off with the count 2-2 before slapping a single. As expected, Tabata stole second base, on a throw from d’Arnaud that was on line but too high, and McCoy had to jump to keep the ball from sailing into center field. The baserunner didn’t affect Mcguire, though, since he finished with a scoreless frame that included a strikeout of Jones looking at a perfectly-executed changeup.
It was more of the same from McGuire in the bottom of the sixth where, after giving up a leadoff single to Alvarez and another base hit, he ended the threat and kept the Pirates off the scoreboard.
Blue Jay hitters broke the 4-4 tie in the top of the seventh, when Yan Gomes, pinch-hitting for Lind, cranked a solo home run to center before Jonathan Diaz hit a double that scored two to put the Jays up 7-4. Scoring on the play was outfielder Jake Marinick, who had come on for Davis in the previous inning, and it was not only easy to spot just how big he is, but also how fast, since he came barreling around third to score.
Jays right-hander Ryan Tepera got touched for two runs in the bottom of the frame, after giving up a leadoff walk and a home run to Starling Marte. Marte, one of the top prospects in the Pirates organization, showed exactly why he is so highly-touted and was fun to watch. Speaking of fun to watch, Diaz, who impressed me with some slick defensive plays at third base over the weekend, made a great stop on a ball in the hole at second to rob Pirates hitter Matt Hague of a base hit.
After Valbuena knocked a solo home run in the eighth to give the Jays a two-run lead, Tepera was able to bounce back with a scoreless frame and Robert Coello worked around two hits in a scoreless ninth to preserve the Jays’ 8-6 lead and give them the victory.
Like I mentioned above, I was really impressed with how McGuire looked, especially since it was his first appearance of the spring. Home run to Jones aside, Hutchison looked good as well, keeping the ball on the outer half of the plate more often than not. It was also nice to see some of the young, big-bodied outfielders like Marisnick and Michael Crouse, plus the cannon that is Sierra’s arm.