Ever the optimist, that Charlie Montoyo.
Among the cheery first-year Blue Jays manager’s most obvious talents in the public eye is that he has become rather adept at scouring for rays of sunshine following his team’s many defeats, a coping mechanism as much as anything, no doubt.
“I know they’re trying hard out there … they’re playing hard. That’s all you can ask as a manager,” Montoyo said from field level inside the Rogers Centre on Sunday afternoon, moments after his sad-sack Toronto squad was swept for the sixth time this season, not counting one two-game sweep, to fall a dreadful 19 games below .500.
Apparently, though, there’s a limit to Montoyo’s ability to positively package the losing product.
After confirming beleaguered pitcher Edwin Jackson would, indeed, get another big-league start, on Wednesday night in Baltimore, Montoyo was asked about the process behind deciding to trot out the well-traveled veteran. Jackson, who has allowed 19 earned runs through a combined 9.2 innings over his last three starts, is 0-4 and owns a mind-boggling ERA of 11.90.
Montoyo’s answer was as honest as it was troublesome.
“We don’t have anybody else,” he said.
It begs a few questions.
First, how, at the big-league level, can a team’s front office not have the foresight to, above all else, ensure valid starting pitching will always be available.
We’re not talking about having a Cy Young winner at the ready, but regardless of the various injuries to the team’s pitching staff this season, there is no excuse for giving Jackson another start at this point. And to be clear, we’ll only believe it’s happening when we see him walk out to the mound on Wednesday in Maryland.
Second, just how much worse can this season get for the the rebuilding Jays, who carry a 23-42 record into Baltimore for three games beginning Tuesday? Let’s just say when a team has dropped 14 of 17 games, anything is possible and a date with the O’s, one of two teams worse off than Toronto in all of baseball, no longer feels like guaranteed respite.
With three games against AL West-leading Houston later this week, a trio in Boston against the Red Sox next weekend and three versus the Yankees in New York after that, it’s likely the pain train will gather speed before the calendar turns with a Canada Day weekend set at home to the putrid Kansas City Royals.
Perhaps most important at this juncture: What affect is all this chronic losing having on the collective psyche of the young, rookie-laden Jays roster, many of whom have been deemed as players destined for long and productive big-league careers, to say nothing of steering the Jays towards contention one day down the road?
The importance of leadership cannot be understated in these fragile times, and if the wins aren’t exactly accumulating, it appears the clubhouse guidance is at least being identified.
Early last week, Montoyo said the team would introduce music in the clubhouse following losses — typically a no-no in sports — as a way to keep the players loose despite the growing mountain of losses.
This past weekend, the manager moved leadership to the top of his to-do list and talked specifically to catcher Danny Jansen and super-utility player Cavan Biggio — two key pieces to Toronto’s core young group — telling them they would be ideal candidates to speak up inside the clubhouse.
It’s a role Jansen considers a natural fit as a catcher, and proper leadership is something the 24-year-old sees as vital to the team’s survival, especially during turbulent times such as these past few weeks.
“Of course it is. It’s the pulse, especially when the team’s not going so hot,” Jansen told the Toronto Sun. “You’ve got to have guys that are going to lift you up, pick you up, and that’s not just the leaders, that’s everybody as a team, whether it’s just talking to them, grabbing them aside, picking them up on the ball field, too. It is important, especially when you’re struggling, but every good team has a bunch of leaders, which we have.”
Jansen, who has appeared in 47 games for the Jays this season after being called up from triple-A last August and appearing in 31 games, said he prefers to lead by example and through his preparation, and that shone through on Sunday. Despite entering the game batting just .164 — symptomatic of the team’s MLB-low .219 average — Jansen broke out for a pair of hits, a single and and RBI-double, and made a difficult, backpedaling catch off a mile-high foul ball behind home plate.
“I’m really pleased and I’m really happy for that kid. He’s a big part of our future,” Montoyo said after the game, repeating the same sentence he has used when talking about many of the team’s young players this season.
For Jansen, who cited fellow catcher Luke Maile and veteran Justin Smoak as notable clubhouse leaders he has looked up to since his arrival, a chance to be part of the team’s evolution in a leadership role is something he cherishes.
When asked to specify an instance where a player has spoken up this season, Jansen said “we kind of keep the clubhouse in the clubhouse,” but, he added, the team has maintained a positive attitude and is not short on leaders capable of steering the ship through the choppy waters of this rebuilding campaign.
“I can’t speak highly enough about everybody,” Jansen told the Sun. “There’s so many good people in there that care.
“I’ve learned from a lot of people around here about what to do and how to prepare myself in certain scenarios,” he added. “To show other people that, I’ve very honoured.”
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