My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
• Drew Hutchison’s 2015 season is shaping up to be eerily similar to Ricky Romero’s 2012 campaign. Both were Opening Day starters in those respective seasons and both benefitted from strong run support prior to the All-Star break. In 2012, Romero was 8-4 with a 5.22 ERA in 18 starts heading into the break, while Hutchison is 8-2 with a 5.33 ERA in 18 starts. But the Blue Jays have to be hoping that Hutchison’s second-half will be better than Romero’s in 2012. Following the all-star break, Romero was 1-10 with a 6.62 ERA in 14 starts.
• Yes, that was former Montreal Expo Claudio Vargas starting for the Dominican Republic against Canada in last night’s Pan Am Games Opener in Ajax, Ont. The 37-year-old Vargas, who appeared in 68 games for the Expos in 2003 and 2004 and toed the rubber in triple-A in the Blue Jays organization in 2013, allowed two runs on just one hit in 5-2/3 innings, but took the loss in Canada’s 4-1 win. Two Canuck lefties – Andrew Albers (North Battleford, Sask.) and Jeff Francis (North Delta, B.C.) – who pitched for the Blue Jays earlier in the season contributed three solid innings in relief to help Canada secure the win.
• Much has been made about the declining defensive skills of Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes, but not enough is being made of his declining on-base percentage (OBP). Heading into Sunday’s game, the Jays’ leadoff man’s OBP sits at .308, his worst since 2005. At this point, the Blue Jays’ offence would be better served with second baseman Devon Travis (.351 OBP) at the top of the order.
• Happy 77th birthday to Ron Fairly, who was the first player to suit up for both the Toronto Blue Jays and Montreal Expos. The left-handed hitting slugger is also the only player to be an all-star for both Canadian teams. In 1973, one of his six seasons with the Expos, he posed a .422 OBP to earn all-star honors. After one more season with the Expos and splitting 1975 and 1976 between the St. Louis Cardinals and Oakland A’s, Fairly landed with the Blue Jays in their inaugural 1977 campaign and belted 19 homers to become the club’s first all-star. Fairly hung up his playing spikes after the 1978 season and embarked on a 27-year broadcasting career that included gigs with the California Angels, San Francisco Giants and Seattle Mariners. He retired from full-time broadcasting after the 2006 season and now lives in Indian Wells, California.
• No one will ever contend that Chris Colabello is a great outfielder; his -1.9 dWAR (an all encompassing statistic that measures how many wins a player is worth defensively compared to an average replacement level player at his position) on Baseball Reference bears that out. But in 11 professional baseball seasons (including the minors and majors), he has played a grand total of 114 games in the outfield. It’s interesting to note that his late-inning defensive replacement, Ezequiel Carrera, owns a -1.4 dWAR this season and has played over 1,000 professional games (between the minors and majors) in the outfield. Inexperience is a legitimate excuse for Colabello’s outfield struggles, but what’s Carrera’s excuse?
• It seems fitting that it was a Montreal Expo who recorded the game-winning, walk-off hit in the 1994 MLB All-Star Game that was played 21 years ago today at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Expos outfielder Moises Alou doubled in the bottom of the 10th inning to score Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn to give the National League an 8-7 win. The Expos, who were 74-40 and six games up in the National League East when a strike wiped out the rest of the 1994 season, had four other representatives on that all-star team. Expos centre fielder Marquis Grissom belted a solo home run off of Randy Johnson in the sixth inning, while right-hander Ken Hill hurled two scoreless innings in relief of starter Greg Maddux. Expos catcher Darrin Fletcher and shortstop Wil Cordero were also on the National League squad.
• It’s been a rough week for former Blue Jays relievers. Jason Frasor and Aaron Laffey were designated for assignment by the Kansas City Royals and Colorado Rockies respectively and Brandon League, who has been sidelined with shoulder inflammation all season, was released by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
• This week’s trivia question: Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin has been named to the American League All-Star team as a reserve. Can you name the two other Blue Jays catchers that have been selected to participate in the All-Star game over the years? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a 1979 Topps Andre Dawson baseball card.