The Blue Jays started the season with a bang!! (and then some!)
John Farrell spent the past six weeks persuading his players. He needed just one inning to make believers of the fans.
The Toronto Blue Jays’ new manager, fresh from four years as a pitching coach in Boston, has never run an offence before. But even before spring training started, he made his intentions clear. He would not sit back and wait for somebody to hit the ball out of the park.
This team would intimidate opponents with aggressive baserunning, he promised. And on opening night against the Minnesota Twins, with 47,984 towel-waving fans screaming their approval, Farrell and the Jays promptly delivered.
Oh yes, and they also hit four out of the park in a 13-3 win, with lefty Ricky Romero delivering on a vow to bury his sketchy spring stats. Rookie J.P. Arencibia homered twice. Jose Bautista and Adam Lind went back-to-back.
Regarding the running: Rajai Davis led off the first inning with an infield hit, got picked off, outran the ensuing rundown and made it back to first base. After Yunel Escobar singled, he and Davis made a double steal look like child’s play.
En route to a 4-0 first-inning lead, the Jays scored twice on sacrifice flies, one of which also advanced runners to second and third.
Farrell may never have engineered an offence, but as a pitching coach, he understood what made a defence twitch.
“I know what’s a pain in the ass to prepare for,” he said back in spring training.
You could call it educated aggression. Farrell sat his players down in a classroom in the Dunedin clubhouse and preached the new gospel. They practised assorted base-running scenarios on a back field, away from prying eyes. They applied those lessons in spring games.
In the final week of the exhibition season, Farrell called a double steal of second and home. It worked. He called a squeeze bunt against his old team. It went foul, but he figures the Red Sox will remember.
This was no casual notion. Farrell and his coaches spent hours constructing, dissecting and refining the plan.
“What’s been so helpful and so rewarding is the conversation that starts early in the morning,” he said earlier this week. “We talk through different scenarios, different situations. We’ve spent probably 10 straight mornings on first-and-third situations — different things that can come up, different personnel combinations. We’ve role-played it.”
They played it out in spring games, and got right to work on opening night.
“If we didn’t look to execute in a game, then it would just fall on deaf ears,” Farrell said. “They’d say, ‘We’re going through this, but this is a bunch of eyewash.’ That’s not been the case.”
Of course, the home run still works nicely too. Arencibia hit two, along with a two-run triple. Bautista, the reigning long-ball king, hit his 55th in two seasons to open the fifth. The next batter, Lind, whacked one off a façade above the second deck in right field.
The Jays lineup is not blessed with exceptional speed, but that should not stop a team from annoying opponents with the running game, Farrell said a couple of weeks ago. Slower players can learn to run smart.
“We’ve seen times here where Adam Lind has gone first to third [in spring training]. Guys that might not have been asked to do that before are beginning to press the envelope with that. That’s a mindset that I feel like we have created here in camp.”
For all that, Farrell knows there is nothing like the long ball. The Jays relied on homers last year and will hit a bunch again this season, he predicts. He wants a “hit-first” offence.
“That’s a strength of ours,” he said, “and we’re never going to ask anybody to reduce their strength.”