CLEVELAND — Apparently the mere presence of Teoscar Hernandez on the Blue Jays active roster was enough to snap a dreary offense out of its recent doldrums.
Activated after spending 20 games on the injured list with an oblique strain, Hernandez sat the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader as manager Charlie Montoyo didn’t want to overdue it with his cleanup hitter in his much-anticipated return.
But the rest of the offense certainly took care of business in an 8-3 thumping over the Guardians on a chilly, windy afternoon at Progressive Field.
As if inspired by the presence of Hernandez — and the prospect of him playing in the second game of the double header later on Saturday — the Jays scored their most runs since the 10 they unleashed in a win on Opening Day.
And when they put up a four-spot in the second inning, it was the first time in 95 innings that they had a lead of more than two runs.
“I’m not going to say it’s because I was out (that the offense has been struggling),” Hernandez said with a smile prior to the first half fo the double dip. “It’s going to happen. It’s just baseball. Things weren’t going the way we wanted it to go in the last three weeks. We weren’t doing the little things we have to do to score runs.”
Some of those little things were done rather well in the second of a four-game set here against the Guardians.
That second inning outburst was a prime example of what the Jays haven’t been doing well offensively through the first 26 games of the season. The rally began with a two-out double from Matt Chapman, who was followed by successive walks from Santiago Espinal and Alejandro Kirk.
That set the stage for a two-RBI single from Raimel Tapia and a two-run double from George Springer. Four runs in an inning was beginning to feel like foreign territory for an offense that routinely scored in bunches last season.
Even more encouraging was the fact that the Jays beat up on Guardians starter Shane Bieber, who had struck out 19 combined in his two previous meetings against the Jays.
Bieber was chased after just 3.1 innings allowing eight hits and seven earned runs, one fewer than in his previous five starts combined.
As for Hernandez, he took his time to ensure that the oblique was properly healed and opted for three rehab games so that he could contribute at the plate as soon as possible.
“(The injury) was early in the season and that’s one of the reasons I took a little extra time to get back and make sure I feel 100 per cent,” Hernandez said. “My body feels good to go.”
The presence of Hernandez in the Jays batting order will be more of a morale boost, of course. Once he’s up to speed, he figures to make Vlad Guerrero Jr. — who hits one spot ahead of him — that much more productive.
“As a team, we’ve been looking for runs and some kind of a spark,” Montoyo said. “It’s not fair to expect (Hernandez_ to do that, but if anyone can do it it’s him.
“And it’s great protection (for Guerrero). I can’t think of anyone better to hit behind Vladdy than Teo.”
Hernandez, who hit two homers and two doubles in his rehab stint with the single A Dunedin Blue Jays, figures it may take a few games to get up to big league speed. But he feels he’s close.
“Obviously my timing is not 100%,” Hernandez said. “It’s not the same when you play those minor leaguers and you come back here and you face the good pitching, but it’s getting there. It’s getting close.
“I don’t think it’s going to take me a long time.”
WIZARD OF GAUS
The early-season brilliance of Jays starter Kevin Gausman continued as he navigated the Guardians lineup and the swirling wins at Progressive Field with equal success.
Gausman threw a season-high 104 pitches but allowed just six hits and one run through his 6.1 innings, the third consecutive start he’s pitched into the seventh.
The right hander struck out five and allowed his first walk of the season but worked on an afternoon when control was no easy task. The Jays, for example, extracted eight walks in the first seven innings from Guardians pitchers.
The latest effort from Gausman lowered his ERA from 2.27 to 2.13, fifth best among American League starters. Overall, Jays starters now lead the AL in innings pitched (134) and strikeouts (129).
AROUND THE BASES
Sunday figures to be a big day for Jays starter Alek Manoah, who has flown his mom and grandmother to Cleveland to help celebrate Mother’s Day … Guerrero’s single in the fourth inning was the 400th hit of his MLB career … It wasn’t a pretty cleanup job from reliever Trent Thornton who walked three consecutive Guradians batters to lead off the eighth, at which point Montoyo had seen enough. Julian Merryweather was summoned and limited the hosts to just one run… Cleveland is stop one on a three-city, 11-day, nine-game trip, tied for the longest roadie of the season for the Jays … An 0-for-5 afternoon at the plate ended shortstop Bo Bichette’s six-game hitting streak … Conversely, DH Alejandro Kirk had three hits and also reached on a walk and wild pitch.