TORONTO – Manager John Gibbons says it’s too early to say the Blue Jays are on fire. But Toronto is definitely heating up.
Ezequiel Carrera and Jose Bautista homered Sunday as the Jays continued to swing a hot bat in a 6-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics that brought them back to .500 at 10-10.
The Toronto attack, which was sluggish to open the season, woke up against the A’s with 20 runs, 32 hits and six home runs to win the series two games to one. Carrera, a backup outfielder making the most of Michael Saunders’ sore hamstring, helped trigger the offence from the leadoff spot with seven hits in the series.
“I’ve always thought, I think most people did, it was just a matter of time,” said Gibbons. “You’re not going to hold us down for ever.”
A three-game series starting Monday against the visiting Chicago White Sox will be another good test, he suggested.
While Bautista, Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki, with two, all homered against Oakland, Toronto also got contributions elsewhere.
Witness the third inning Sunday. With the Jays trailing 1-0, Carrera opened the inning by slamming a solo homer to the second deck in right-centre. The other three runs came two outs later on an intentional walk to Tulowitzki and consecutive singles by Justin Smoak, Kevin Pillar and Darwin Barney — hitters six through eight — as Toronto sent nine men to the plate in a four-run outburst against starter Eric Surkamp (0-2).
Pillar had six hits in the three-game series while Barney had four, including a homer, in two games.
“The guys you’re really concentrating on are the guys 2 through 6. It was a lot of the other guys that got us this series,” said Oakland manager Bob Melvin, whose team dropped to 10-9.
Pillar, who is hitting .387 since dropping down in the order from leadoff, pointed to Carrera as an offensive catalyst.
“I think the last couple of days he really ignited this offence,” he said. “I’ve been in his position before, I know how tough it is to come off the bench and make contributions. What’s he’s been able to do is really get us going.”
Carrera, who raised his batting average by 160 points to .346 over the weekend, went 6-for-9 with four singles, a ground-rule double and a home run in the series. The 28-year-old Venezuelan has no doubt won another starting assignment.
Drew Hutchison, called up from the minors for a one-off start to give Toronto’s rotation an extra day’s rest, left to a standing ovation after giving up just two runs on four hits over 5 2/3 innings. He struck out five and walked two, throwing 55 strikes in a 95-pitch outing.
The only blemishes on his afternoon were solo homers by Khris Davis, in the second, and Josh Reddick, in the sixth. Chris Coghlan also homered off Jesse Chavez in a seventh inning that saw two other A’s hammer moonshots to the warning track.
Roberto Osuna pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his sixth save.
There was a full house of 46,300 for Josh Donaldson MVP Bobblehead Day, with fans lining up for hours before the game to get one of the 20,000 giveaways.
Prior to the game, the reigning AL MVP was presented with his Silver Slugger Award as the best-hitting third baseman in the American League, as well as Players Choice Awards as 2015 Player of the Year and AL Outstanding Player to a standing ovation. The 30-year-old Florida native also caught the ceremonial first pitch from his mother, Lisa French.
Donaldson had the fans on their feet in the first inning when his deep drive to left was caught at the edge of the warning track in left.
Bautista kept the scoreboard ticking with a two-run homer to left-centre in the fourth, driving in Donaldson with his fourth of the season.
The 25-year-old Hutchison was the Jays’ Opening Day starter in 2015, when he went 13-5 with a 5.57 ERA, but found himself on the outside looking in this season and opened for the Jays’ farm team in Buffalo.
Hutchison (1-0) came into the game with a 29-21 record with a 4.92 earned-run average in the majors. But 20 of those wins came at the Rogers Centre, where he has won 12 of his last 14 starts.
Despite another victory, the right-hander said he felt he was “a little off” but made some good pitches when he needed to.
“I gave our team a chance to win. With our offence and the guys behind me, that’s what you need to do,” he said.
Gibbons said Hutchison provided a timely victory.
“He won a lot of games last year but he had his struggles, up and down, things like that. But he executes when he needs to, he always does. And he brings out the best in the offence, we always score. So he’s also the good luck charm.”
Hutchison clearly is not happy in the minors. But he is saying the right things.
“I mean I’m not where I would like to be, I think that’s obvious. But you do what you do when you go down there (to the minors) and you handle business and that’s what I’ve done.”
Notes: Catcher Russell Martin was a late scratch with a sore neck. Gibbons said his status is day-to-day … Marcus Stroman will start Monday against White Sox right-hander Miguel Gonzalez.
Neil Davidson TSN | Photo: TSN
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