Blue Jays gift Phillies a win, but reinforcements are on the horizon


TORONTO – Friday in Cincinnati is shaping up as a reunion day for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Bo Bichette, who went 2-for-3 and scored from first during a rehab game as the DH for triple-A Buffalo on Wednesday, along with Kevin Kiermaier and Trevor Richards, are all on track for reinstatement from the injured list ahead of the series opener against the Reds at Great American Ball Park. Chad Green likely won’t be back this weekend, but he’s on the horizon, too. 

Bichette, who will first play shortstop for the Bisons on Thursday in a final test for the patellar tendon in his right knee, is of course the key looming returnee. Barring a surprise, the Blue Jays will finish his 15-game absence at 8-7 after a messy 9-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.

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Much as NL wild-card leaders gifted them a win Tuesday night on a bases-loaded hit by pitch, the Blue Jays returned the favour before a crowd of 42,701. They led 4-2 in the fifth when Kevin Gausman threw consecutive sliders to Nick Castellanos, who ripped an RBI double, before Santiago Espinal bounced a throw to first after fielding Bryson Stott’s grounder, turning what should have been the third out into a pair of runs that put the Phillies in front.

They added two more in the sixth on a Kyle Schwarber sacrifice fly and Alec Bohm RBI single, another in the eighth on Jake Cave’s solo shot and one more in the ninth on Bryce Harper’s second homer of the game, as a game the Blue Jays (67-55) were in control of through four frames slipped through their fingers. 

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An off-day Thursday – their second in four days with another coming Monday before a three-game series at AL East-leading Baltimore – means the Blue Jays will have to sit on this one until their visit to the Reds opens Friday. 

“It looked like they were sitting on the splitter a little bit, kind of pivoted to more fastballs, the slider to Castellanos was kind of up in the zone,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider in assessing Gausman’s evening. “They were laying off tough pitches and made him work. It’s a veteran lineup. I thought his adjustments were good, made a couple of bad pitches and we gave them extra outs. Not really the recipe that you want.”

Gausman came out the gate hot, mowing through Kyle Schwarber, Alec Bohm and Bryce Harper on eight pitches in a dominant first, then had to grind through a 23-pitch second, when he loaded the bases with none out but allowed only a Cave sacrifice fly.

The Blue Jays answered in the bottom half, as Cavan Biggio singled, stole second, took third on an Alejandro Kirk fly ball and then scored when Daulton Varsho launched his 15th homer of the season into the right-field bullpen.

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Harper replied in the third when he sent a hanging Gausman splitter out to centre, tying the game 2-2, but the Blue Jays again went ahead in the bottom half, when Biggio’s two-run, two-out single made it a 4-2 game.

There it stayed until the pivotal fifth, when Gausman doubled up on sliders to Castellanos, who ripped the second one for a double that made it 4-3, before the Stott ball that Espinal fielded, paused while Castellanos ran past him, and then bounced to Guerrero, who couldn’t pick it. 

Aaron Nola then got some help escaping the bottom of the fifth when George Springer struck out swinging and negated a Guerrero stolen base at second due to batter’s interference, ending the frame.

The Blue Jays were chasing the game from that point forward.

“I wasn’t my normal self tonight,” said Gausman, who allowed seven runs, five earned, on seven hits and three walks in 5.1 innings. “It was pretty sporadic around the zone. That definitely didn’t help. Too many 3-2 counts and it’s one thing that has kind of been happening a lot this second half, walking too many guys and long innings. They were a World Series team last year and so you give them that many chances, they’re going to make you pay for it.”

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Espinal was covering at third for a third straight game while Matt Chapman continues to recover from some right middle finger inflammation, while Danny Jansen sat again as the Blue Jays try to use the off-days to help him recover from five hit by pitches in seven games.

Both should be ready to go Friday, along with Bichette who “felt good after the game” in Buffalo, said Schneider. “The hope is to play short (Thursday) as long as he feels good before, and kind of go from there.”

Richards also threw a scoreless inning Wednesday that included a walk and a strikeout and “will be good to go” Friday, added Schneider. Green, meanwhile, returned from concussion protocol to throw 30 pitches in 1.1 innings, getting up to 95.3 m.p.h. with his fastball while allowing an unearned run on two hits with three strikeouts. 

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Throwing in back-to-back games “is probably still on the table because of the week that he did have off” due to concussion protocol, said Schneider, which is why “I wouldn’t really target” a return in Cincinnati. 

The looming additions mean some subtractions are coming, too, and all that will be sorted in the days ahead. Closer Jordan Romano began the parade of returning players on Tuesday and the Blue Jays should look much more like themselves by Friday.

“When you talk about losing your closer and losing your all-star shortstop, that’s not an easy thing to overcome,” said Schneider. “So it’s a credit to the guys and definitely held our footing, if you will. And guys stepped up in big spots, too. Really, really pleased with the effort.”

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