HOUSTON – There was plenty for the Blue Jays to admire as they looked across the field into the home dugout at Minute Maid Park this weekend.
Yes, the Houston Astros are a model franchise for many in Major League Baseball, especially for those invested in a scorched earth rebuild the likes of which the Jays are currently enduring.
The pain can be real and it can be deep as the Astros learned in the years before they won the 2017 World Series and emerged as one of the best in baseball.
Fortunately for the Jays, there is the odd glimmer of hope such as Sunday’s sweep-avoiding breakout. Riding a sensational starting effort from former Astros prospect Trent Thornton and home ins from Rowdy Tellez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Freddy Galvis and two from Teoscar Hernandez, the Jays cruised to a 12-0 win.
While the Astros may not be the exact model for the Jays, the end result certainly is the destination. And with young players contributing on Sunday, it certainly makes it easier to ponder the future.
“This organization has obviously done a tremendous job of having ready made young talent that’s ready to come up and have an impact,” Jays director of baseball operations, Mike Murov said in an interview. “That’s a model that you try to build and we feel like we’re getting there but it’s been a challenge this year for sure.
“They are obviously very successful and they’ve done it with a lot of internal players. If we are able to build that much talent over the next couple of years that would be a great outcome just based on the success that they’ve had.”
The challenges have been many this season for the Jays front office, led by general manager Ross Atkins. The biggest obstacle has been finding reliable, healthy pitching.
“Yes it’s challenging,” Murov acknowledged prior to watching Thornton’s stellar effort, the best so far in a promising rookie season for the 25-year-old. “It’s more challenging for the people day-to-day in the clubhouse.
“We did our best in the off season. I thought we did a decent job filling the number of levels that we needed to and that’s obviously been gutted pretty quickly.”
With so much focus on the development side, the Jays had a clear strategy in bolstering the pitching staff in the off season. They weren’t going to spend a lot, especially in terms of prospect equity.
“It you are going to find effective starting pitching usually that requires significant assets either financially or (with prospects),” Murov said. “That was part of our approach in the off season. I don’t think we were in a position where we wanted to sink $36 million on a No. 4 starter. We’d rather give opportunities to guys to come up and perform.
“I don’t know that we anticipated as many injuries as we’ve had or frankly that the level of performances from some of the players has been below what you would hope for.”
The confluence of injuries to Matt Shoemaker and Ryan Borucki plus the struggles of Clayton Richard has put manager Charlie Montoyo and pitching coach Pete Walker in a bind all season.
The Jays knew the strategy came with the risk of having the type of season they’re currently enduring, but ultimately didn’t want to sell out on any of the future or rush prospects through the system.
“It’s a hard position to address without really crippling yourself short and long term,” Moruv said. “We certainly don’t want to put ourselves in a position developmentally that we think will compromise one of our young arms. We have to think of long-term and be cognizant of what’s best for each player individually.”
It was a tremendous performance by Thornton, who was dealt to the Jays last November in a deal that sent Aledmys Diaz to the Astros.
Clearly motivated to perform against the franchise that gave up on him, the Charlotte native pitched 6.2 shutout innings, his second longest outing of the season. Thornton gave up six hits while striking out seven.
To Murov’s point, you have to wonder where the Jays would be without Thornton, who made his 15th start on Sunday. His seven strikeouts boosted his season total to 80, the most by a Jays rookie in his first 15 starts.
“He had been in triple A for a year and a half (with the Astros) and we felt like he was ready.”
The Jays went homer happy led by Gurriel’s 452-foot bomb in the fifth, the second deepest of the season for the Jays. Tellez got things started with his first-inning blast, his 11th of the season.
It was a big Fathers Day for the Gurriel family with his father Lourdes Sr. in the stands and older brother Yuli in the Astros lineup. As Gurriel crossed the plate, he pointed to the stands where his proud papa was sitting.
The eight extra-base hits by the Jays were the most this season.
Vlad Guerrero Jr. was back in the Jays lineup as DH despite the bruised left hand he sustained when hit by a pitch on Friday. The hand is obviously still tender, however, as Guerrero turned down a high-five celebration with Gurriel after scoring a run.
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