Blue Jays and Montoyo eliminate strangers to focus on the task at hand


TORONTO – On Wednesday afternoon, as a frenzied race to find a regular season home – potentially homes – played at organizational levels above his head, Toronto Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo, focused on the task at hand.

That would be preparing an MLB team for a season that starts in less than 48 hours. There is a pitch rotation to finalize; an enclosure to assemble; a list of 30 players for opening day due to the MLB by Thursday at 12 p.m. ET. The Blue Jays may not yet know where they play all of their games, but they do know they will be playing it. And that provides many tasks for a coaching staff to focus on.

“There are two days left, not knowing where you’re going to play the home games – I’ve never experienced anything like that,” said Montoyo. “But I know, as a leader, if I look at a leader and you see a leader panic, it’s just not good. So we are not. The coaching staff is not. We are working hard with these kids just to keep them in a positive frame of mind. This is what we are doing right now.

Montoyo and the club’s front office made the final decisions on the 30-man roster on Wednesday and informed the players whether or not they had made the squad shortly before the 2-0 win over the Red Sox in Boston. The Blue Jays have not made those final decisions public, choosing instead to announce the roster on Thursday when the club has optional practice scheduled at Tropicana Field ahead of Friday’s season opener against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Of course, most of it is obvious. Only a few names on the sidelines of the roster were affected by Wednesday’s decisions, and with 30 spots up for grabs, the club must have made fewer tough calls than they would have had at the end of training. spring. This time around, the decision came about whether the Blue Jays would carry 16 pitchers and 14 players in position or an even split of 15 and 15.

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If the latter is the case, it could be good news for a swingman who missed out on a rotation spot, like Sean Reid-Foley or Thomas Pannone, or potentially one of the uninvited Torontoers, like Justin Miller or Brian Moran. If it’s the first, it means the Blue Jays felt confident in their starting pitcher to deepen games in the first week of the season, and instead opted to wear extra coverage on the pitch with Ruben Tejada. , non-lined up guest or an additional outfielder to Billy McKinney.

And things could always change on Thursday. In the club’s optional training, Montoyo will have his first look this spring at Brandon Drury, who has been on the injured list since the start of the month for undisclosed reasons. He never made it to Toronto when the team moved their training camp to Rogers Center, continuing to train at the club’s spring training center in Dunedin, Fla. If Drury is in play form, he could make the list for day one.

A decision will also be made on Thursday on Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who struggled with left-side discomfort that developed in an intrasquad game earlier this week. Gurriel has taken up batting practice ahead of Wednesday’s game against the Red Sox, and is expected to practice batting live against Tanner Roark on Thursday, after which he will be reassessed. Montoyo’s upbeat Gurriel will be available on opening day, but if this year has taught us anything, it’s that not much is certain.

What we do know is that Chase Anderson will start the season on the injured list, but “should be ready sooner than expected,” Montoyo said. This opens up a spot in Toronto’s rotation for either Anthony Kay or Ryan Borucki, with the former being slightly more likely to win the position than the latter. The two would take turns for Sunday’s game against the Rays and the Blue Jays have yet to name a starter for that game.

Trent Thornton is also in the Toronto rotation, and Wednesday’s outing against Boston – he looked sharp in three one-stroke innings – sets him up to start against the Washington Nationals on Monday, with Roark in turn for the morning. Tuesday.

You may notice that the name Nate Pearson doesn’t appear in these top five starts for the Blue Jays. And now you surely know that by leaving him off the roster for those first five games of the season, the Blue Jays can ensure that he doesn’t complete a full year of major league service in 2020, delaying his free agency until after the 2026 season.

This decision is as obvious as it is heartless. Any prudent front office does. Especially in a season when their club are not supposed to fight and have plenty of starting pitch options. And especially not during a season that could be interrupted due to a pandemic at any time. If the Blue Jays had booked Pearson on day one to see the season wiped out, the Blue Jays would have blown a year of contract control at the start and end of his service clock.

This is not what you want. And the fact that the Blue Jays are even in a position where they are pressured to keep one of the best young pitchers on the planet off their roster is demoralizing for everyone involved. Pearson is wasting precious development time. The Blue Jays are losers to have an unusually talented pitcher contributing to their team. Fans lose watching him launch. Baseball loses by putting its best product on the court. Everyone loses.

But like the minor detail of where half of the squad’s games are going to be this season, it’s just not something Montoyo can spend his energy on just yet. His job is to keep the players he has positive, focused, and pulling in the same direction. It’s something he’s had quite a bit of experience with.

Remember, Montoyo spent almost two decades managing in the minor leagues. Seven of those seasons – over 1,000 games – have been spent at the helm of the Durham Bulls triple A. It’s not an easy level to manage. No player really wants to be there. Some are on the way up, upset that they haven’t reached the big leagues yet. Some are going down, upset that they are no longer in the majors. Some are stuck in the middle, overwhelmed by the game.

Montoyo has taken these Bulls teams five times to the International League final. He won a few championships. He did it all while his son, Alex, underwent multiple open heart surgeries during his first year of life. Sometimes Montoyo would fly to Arizona on the holidays, spend less than 24 hours with his family, and return to Durham on another cross-country flight in time for the Bulls’ next game.

So that? It’s nothing.

“Honestly, I’ve been through worse,” Montoyo said. “You just stay positive. This group is so positive. You saw the game last night. We will always play to win. Wherever this place is, we’re going to do it. I’m really proud of these guys. No one complains. They’re just getting ready, training, getting ready for tonight’s game. And we’ll see where we’re going to play.


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