Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Jays Win, Escobar Leaves Early

It's never a good thing losing your starting shortstop to injury -- especially not a head injury. But it's particularly devastating to lose your shortstop to injury when he's started the season hitting at a .474 clip, and has already delivered a walkoff homerun for good measure.

The joy of tonight's 4-3 win over the Oakland Athletics -- which secured consecutive series victories for the Jays to open the 2011 season -- was somewhat diminished by the early exit of shortstop Yunel Escobar, who was removed from the game in the seventh inning due to dizziness sustained after sliding head-first into Oakland's Andy Laroche while trying to leg out a triple the inning before.

Who said the stigma of head injuries is confined exclusively to hockey?

After the game, Shi Davidi of the Canadian Press tweeted that Jays' manager John Farrell is "hopeful and at least cautiously optimistic at this point that we’re not entertaining something like (a concussion)."

Escobar, who was 3/3 with a run before being replaced by John McDonald, had been compensating offensively for the absence of Jose Bautista for the past two games, and the Jays can only hope that the Cuban is able to avoid any comparisons to Sidney Crosby.

However, should the injury prove to be serious, Escobar would be in a position to receive designation to the newly-instituted seven-day disabled list, designed specifically for players with head injuries in the wake of the recent uproar regarding concussions in the sports community.

But aside from the blight of the Escobar casualty, the Jays' victory tonight had a lot of positives, notably, the performance of Jesse Litsch. In his inaugural 2011 start, Litsch hurled 6.1 solid innings, surrendering three runs, all earned, over six hits and two walks while striking out seven. With his performance tonight, the 26-year-old certainly improved his chances to retain his spot in the rotation upon the return of Brandon Morrow from the disabled list.

Jo-Jo Reyes, who was mercifully relieved after just 3.1 innings last night, now emerges as the favourite to be the odd-man-out in the rotation, and tonight's performance from "the best fifth starter in baseball," according to Mike Wilner of the Fan590, certainly didn't help his chances.

Litsch eventually turned the ball over to lefty Mark Rzepczynski who threw a masterful two innings in relief before making way for interim closer Jon Rauch who finished the job. In an unconventional yet remarkably acute move, John Farrell elected to keep Rzepczynski in to face the left-handed hitting Hideki Matsui leading off the ninth, rather than go automatically to his closer. Farrell's ingenuity paid off, as Rzepczynski got Matsui swinging. Rauch then came in and quickly disposed of righties Kurt Suzuki and Mark Ellis.

The offense in tonight's game was provided largely by one swing from Travis Snider, who blasted a hanging breaking ball from Oakland starter Dallas Braden over the wall in right for a three-run shot in the fourth to give the Jays a two-run lead. After the A's managed to reduce the deficit to one in the fifth, the Jays tagged on an insurance run via an RBI single from Aaron Hill in the eighth.

With tonight's victory, the Jays improve to 4-1 on the season and will look for the series sweep tomorrow afternoon. The Blue Jays will send lefty Ricky Romero (1-0, 1.42) to the hill against Trevor Cahill (0-0, 1.93).

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