George Springer made history at long last, debuting in a Blue Jays uniform and beginning a new era as face of the franchise. But for Steven Matz, history repeated itself as he once again struggled against the Washington Nationals.
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The pre-game headlines seemed to be pre-determined proclamations of Springer firsts and Matz seeking his 5th consecutive win as a Blue Jay. But from the opening pitch it became clear that the evening would belong to the visiting Nationals. Springer went 0-4 in his Toronto debut, looking comfortable at the plate but not really hitting any ball hard. Springer served as the designated hitter, and it appears that will be his role as he returns to the field after suffering two muscle injuries.
As for Matz, his problems with the Washington lineups seemed to follow him to TD Ballpark from his days as a Met. Matz has been spectacular in the 2021 season, becoming the first hurler in club history to win his first four starts as a Blue Jay. But Matz (4-1) entered the contest with a career line of 1-7 5.47 ERA against the Nats, surrendering more home runs against Washington (15) then any other team. After wiggling out of trouble in first 2 innings, Matz surrendered 3 runs in the 3rd and 4th innings and never seeming comfortable with any of his pitches.
Former first round pick Erik Fedde (2-2) came into the game with a high 5 ERA, but kept the Blue Jays bats in check over his 6 innings of work. In spite of occasional command issues that had limited him to no more than 5 innings in his previous 2021 starts, Fedde scattered 2 hits and 1 run, striking out 2 and walking 3 batters with 97 pitches.
The Nationals struck first in the top of the 3rd inning. Matz surrendered singles to Victor Robles and the red-hot Trea Turner before hitting Josh Harrison in the foot to load the bases with no outs. Ryan Zimmerman slapped a 2-2 change up down the 3rd base line, scoring Robles & Turner . After a visit from pitching coach Pete Walker, Starlin Castro drilled a 2-0 breaking pitch up the middle for a hit, an RBI, and 3-0 Nationals lead.
Robles caught a break in his 4th inning at bat when an obvious strike with a change up was called a ball and a walk. As Matz fumed, he battled Turner and got him to send a shallow pop up to center. But Marcus Semien was forced to cover second base when Robles attempted a steal, and Randal Grichuk could not cover the ground to prevent the ball from dropping in for another hit. Harrison sent another Matz change-up over the wall in left center for a 3-run blast and doubling the Nats lead to 6-0. After Matz struck out Zimmerman, Jays manager Charlie Montoyo came out to lift Matz in favor of Ty Tice. Tice retired Castro on a fly ball to right to end the inning.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr.created the only blemish on Fedde’s record with a homer to lead off the fifth. But Fedde prevented any further damage over the next 2 frames. Tice was not as fortunate in the bottom half of the fifth, walking Kyle Schwarber on 5 pitches before giving up a homerun to the struggling Josh Bell to make it 8-1 Nationals. Bo Bichette led off the 8th with an impressive drive off the scoreboard in straight away center to make it an 8-2 game. But even a 2 hit night from the Blue Jays shortstop could not add a positive spin to a demoralizing loss.
Toronto has an off-day on Thursday before welcoming the Atlanta Braves to Dunedin. Robbie Ray will pitch the opener, but the Ryu IL stint will leave Montoyo and Walker with a challenge of juggling multiple bullpen pieces into a pitching strategy that can earn a series win.
SPRINGER DEBUT BUTS…. George Springer was smiling throughout his first official game in the Blue Jays whites. But while some game logs will show he lined out 3 times over his 4 at bats, it should be noted that according to Gamecast the liners left his bat at 81, 82 & 91 MPH. In fairness to Springer, he did not appear to be fooled by any pitch he faced and demonstrated a keen management of the strike zone. No doubt Springer shared Blue Jays fans hopes for a splashy debut. But after a lengthy rehab from oblique and quad muscle injuries, just seeing him swing the bat in real game action was a sight to behold.
RUH ROH RAGGY… While the Blue Jays have produced some impressive offensive performances (Vlad Guerrero Jrs 3 HR, 7 RBI Tuesday as an example) , the team entered the night with the lowest batting average with runners in scoring position in the majors (.204). After going 0-3 tonight, you have to at least begin to wonder what the issue may be. The return of Springer and Teoscar Hernandez and the implementation of a lineup filled with regulars may just remedy the situation over the weekend and during their extended road trip.
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