TORONTO — George Springer doesn’t suddenly feel like a new man after a 10-day stint on the disabled list and a cortisone shot in his troublesome right elbow.
Sure, the Toronto Blue Jays center fielder feels better than he did a couple of weeks ago, when every pitch and hit seemed to leave him in agony. But he keeps talking about “handling” the problem and uses the phrase “it is what it is” so often that it’s clear the problem isn’t behind us.
“I have to do a better job of hiding it,” Springer said of the visible pain he was in before the IL season. “That’s my goal: just go out there and play. It doesn’t feel good, but there’s nobody on the field right now on either side that really feels good. So good.
The gist of it is that he simply plans to make do with what his body allows, a reality the Blue Jays have had to come to terms with as his elbow issues have gone from June’s irritation to a recurring stumbling block. By using him as a designated hitter for the time being, even with the corollary lineup issues it causes, they can still field their best batting order more often. “I’m not going to let that stop me, I’m going to go play,” Springer said. “We just have to get to the end of the year and we’ll address things then.”
So while resolution there can wait, much more pressing for the Blue Jays is what to do with the ever-confusing Yusei Kikuchi, who again left them with more questions than answers by giving up six runs, three earned, in a 7-3 rout. . Baltimore Orioles Monday.
The loss, his seventh in nine outings, was the kind of maddening affair that has become all too common in the southpaw’s starts. He looked strong early on and deserved better in the first when Anthony Santander’s single cashed in a Ryan McKenna double just beyond Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s reach down the right-field line.
Perhaps he could even be forgiven for Blue Jays nemesis Ryan Mountcastle’s two-run homer in the third, though a two-out walk to Santander that preceded it was avoidable.
But a messy three-run fourth that allowed the game to fall apart, immediately after the Blue Jays rallied for a pair on Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s two-run single in the third that cut Baltimore’s lead to 3-2. It was worryingly familiar. .
A Bo Bichette error with one out on Jorge Mateo’s ground ball that took a weird jump started the problem, but instead of picking up his teammate, Kikuchi kept digging deeper. Terrin Vavra walked. He made a pointless pickoff attempt at second base that wound up in the outfield and passed runners. A fielder’s pick for Tyler Nevin brought in a run. McKenna’s RBI double brought another and ended his night. A sacrifice fly by Trevor Richards’ Adley Rutschman closed the book on his night.
“There are some things we’ve been working on. I’m trying to figure out what’s good and what’s bad,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Kevin Ando, adding that he had rhythm early but lost it in the fourth inning. “I feel like we’re stuck between the ups and downs right now.”
With Ross Stripling returning from the disabled list Wednesday, the Blue Jays suddenly have options in the rotation thanks to Mitch White, a smart addition at the trade deadline who has impressed in two starts so far. While he’s not fully developed and, at the moment, he may be a double-up type of guy, running him is a possibility the club will surely consider.
Tellingly, before the game, when asked if White, who started Saturday, could be used out of the bullpen in the next few days, interim manager John Schneider said: “At this point, probably not. … Things can change quickly.”
Over the course of another wasted night, they very well might have.
“It’s all on the table right now,” Schneider said when asked if it was possible Kikuchi could skip a start to try and get it right. “We just want him to continue to focus on the things that he is working on. But having options and having other guys that can take on roles is a good thing. And we will figure it out in the next few days.”
While Schneider tried to stress the positives of Kikuchi’s departure, he also noted that “it’s more urgent than patient right now: the season is getting shorter.”
White was groomed with the Dodgers to play a Stripling-style small forward role, so there is scope for creative uses. And it’s worth keeping in mind that there’s no real starting depth behind White, so if something happens elsewhere in the rotation, the Blue Jays are pretty bare-bones.
At the same time, it’s impossible to ignore that they are now 6-14 in the 20 games started by Kikuchi. Constantly getting out of big holes is a tough way to hit, and for a Blue Jays offense still trying to get back in, the constant need to bounce back during the current streak isn’t helping.
“Playing in sync is important and right now we’re not doing it,” Schneider said. “That has to change in the future.”
Some signs of improvement were visible on Monday.
In the third, after a walk by Danny Jansen and Springer put the men on second and third, a frustrated Guerrero threw up his hands after fouling a 0-1 fastball from Kyle Bradish, but fought to work with a walk that loaded the bases and set up the scoreboard. setting for Gurriel’s two-run single.
Guerrero also homered in the fifth as the Blue Jays hit two off tough closer Felix Bautista in the ninth. Still, the kind of sustained relentless focus they need at the plate was still missing.
“I really liked Vladdy’s at-bat on the 3-2 walk to get to Gurriel for the bases-loaded single,” Schneider said. “We have to do more of that in the future and put more runs on the board and not have guys throwing down by four when they should be up by two. That’s basically what it is. We have to take care of the ball. We have to score more runs and put guys in the right spots.”
Aside from the double, Springer also singled and walked, suggesting that despite the elbow problem, he can still be an important catalyst for a team that needs something to lift them out of their current slump. A year ago at this point, the Blue Jays were in the midst of a 4-10 run that threatened their season, but they straightened out at that point and they have to rely on that again now.
“There is no substitute for experience,” he said. “We went through that a little bit last year as a team, to understand what it’s like to play these types of games so late in the season and it’s only going to get more intense as we go. I think we’re in a much better place from an experience standpoint. …
“I’m really not too worried,” he added. “We still have (48) games left… but we understand as a group what needs to be done. You can’t try to be someone you’re not or be something you’re not because then you’ll just try to do something you don’t know how to do. So let’s be ourselves and see what happens.”
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