Change isn’t always easy to embrace, but through four games of a young season the Blue Jays are a team with a lot to like, including their new skipper.
The Blue Jays just finished up their first series of the season, and while a four game split with the Detroit Tigers doesn’t mean that this team should suddenly have playoff aspirations, there were a lot of encouraging signs.
It begins with the starting rotation of course, after Marcus Stroman, Matt Shoemaker, Aaron Sanchez, and Trent Thornton combined to hold the Tigers scoreless over 24 innings. If not for the hot and cold offence, there’s a good argument that they should have won all four contests based on the way their starters performed.
As good as that has been to see, there have been other signs that have made me feel good about the short and longer term future of this team as well. One of the biggest reasons for that is what we’ve seen from the new bench boss in Charlie Montoyo, and how his players have responded to him in the season’s first few games.
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The 53 year old earned his first win as a big league manager on Friday night, and the videos and pictures that hit social media afterward painted a pretty endearing picture. Montoyo has been a baseball lifer, and it’s very easy to see how excited and grateful he is for the opportunity to manage in the big leagues after so many years spent honing his craft in the minors. It’s also pretty easy to see how much his young team has taken to him already, and that he’s going to fit just fine as the leader of this club going forward.
He’s shown a willingness to try different strategies than the old school norm, utilizing Danny Jansen in the leadoff spot on Sunday for example, or posting four outfielders against elite pull hitters like Bryce Harper during spring games. He’s got left-handed players like outfielder Billy McKinney and relief pitcher Tim Mayza regularly taking ground balls at first base. He’s not afraid to use the tools at his disposal, even if they might be a little unconventional. In an evolving league, that should be seen as a good thing.
I can’t help but notice that the fan base seems to have taken an early shine to him as well. It’s easy to root for a hard working guy like Montoyo who spent nearly two decades working in minor league baseball. MLB has had a trend of hiring young, “innovative” skippers in recent years, and Montoyo represents the rare breed lately that has undoubtedly earned his post. Even a couple of my Boston Red Sox loving buddies have commented on how he seems like a great hire, with one texting me yesterday saying, “Watching that Sportsnet special on Charlie Montoyo…. wish I wouldn’t have, I would really rather not like anything about the Jays”.
There’s no doubt that this young team is going to take it’s lumps at times this year, and Montoyo is bound to learn some lessons in his first year managing at the highest level. His experience has him as prepared as you could ask for, but the big leagues come with their own set of rules, such as inflated egos, a new level of media scrutiny, and pressure from the fan base and ownership to win. A young and inexperienced roster can come with it’s own set of challenges as well, but fortunately it’s also an opportunity for Montoyo to grow with his players in the early stages of the rebuild.
It might have only been one series, and one that was split with the lowly Tigers, but already it feels like Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro should feel really good about more than just signing Matt Shoemaker to a bargain, “show me” contract. Their new skipper looks at home in his new role, and appears to be a great fit with this young roster. He and his custom made glove are pretty hard not like, even if the season isn’t even a week old.