Blue Jays relying on bench players, minor-league callups to stay hot
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TORONTO — Even the normally gregarious John Gibbons showed his frustration after losing yet another Blue Jays player to injury.
"I'm tired of talking about it," Toronto's manager grumbled when asked about utility fielder Steve Pearce leaving Sunday's 3-2 win over the Seattle Mariners early after sliding into second base. "I don't want to talk about injuries anymore."
Still, despite a lengthy procession to the disabled list that includes some of the team's biggest names, the Blue Jays have won seven of their past 10 games as they try to turn their season around after a dismal start.
The improvement is coming without key pieces from the run to the 2016 American League Championship Series. Third baseman and 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson, five-time all-star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and all-star catcher Russell Martin are all out.
Starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez had two stints on the disabled list before returning to the active roster on Sunday. Francisco Liriano is still on the DL as is fellow lefty J.A. Happ, while closer Roberto Osuna started the season there but has since returned to the bullpen.
In all, Toronto has lost 297 man games to the DL through Tuesday's 9-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves. That doesn't count days off, like the three games designated hitter Kendrys Morales needed last week to rest a strained hamstring, or Pearce, who was put on the 10-day disabled list on Monday.
Gibbons gives the credit for the Blue Jays' resilience to a rotating cast of role players and minor league callups including Pearce and Ezequiel Carrera in left field, Chris Coghlan and Darwin Barney at third base, Ryan Goins at shortstop and Luke Maile and Mike Ohlman behind the plate.
"They're all doing their part. Just go top to bottom," said Gibbons on Saturday. "The guys are all kind of feeding off each other but they're all pitching in one way or the other."
Those replacements are keeping their roles on the team in perspective.
"It's my job. Someone wakes up at 7 o'clock every morning and grinds for their family every day and gets home at 5, that's their job and this is mine," said Barney, who's hitting .288 with a home run, six runs batted in and nine runs in 32 games. "There's no excuse to not be mentally ready and there's no excuse to not prepare your body and be ready when your name is called."
Although he's only hitting .032 in 10 games since Martin went down with neck and shoulder problems, Maile has won praise from Gibbons, Sanchez and Marcus Stroman. His ability to call a game and his defence — he has gunned down three runners trying to steal bases in — have been invaluable.
"Luke's amazing. I love him. I love him back there," said Stroman. "He's got a great call, great feel for my mix, which is tough to do coming in so soon, to have that relationship with him. It seems like we've been throwing together for years now. He's been unbelievable. He's been handling this pitching staff amazingly.
"I'm excited to throw it to him every time I get out there because he does a great job."
Maile said stepping in for an injured star starts with being prepared and having a workman-like approach.
"It's great, it's a good opportunity for everybody," said Maile. "All the guys have been put into roles that maybe they're not used to playing every day. The thing is these guys got here for a reason and at some point they used to play every day and they're all really good players. I'm really encouraged and excited to see how everyone's stepped up."
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