The Toronto Blue Jays are officially in trouble. Following a frantic start to the offseason that saw the lone Canadian club spend more in the first month of free agency than all of its American competitors, paired with the unveiling of its brand new, state-of-the-art training facility, the 18-wheeler making the climb to the top of the mountain has since hopped the guardrail, while its tail load is the only thing keeping it from plunging thousands of feet down the rough terrain.
It’s safe to say that Tuesday was not a good day for fans of Toronto baseball.
Despite earning a decisive 9-3 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies – which improved their record to a glistening 13-8 through 21 meaningless spring training games of the 2021 preseason – the Jays were dealt a number of heavy blows by way of injury Tuesday afternoon.
Speaking with reporters, Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins focused the majority of his time in delivering updates on the health of a number of players, including some prized offseason acquisitions, including that of presumed closer Kirby Yates.
“For Kirby, it’s most likely going to be a Tommy John revision,” Atkins said over video. “It’s still very fresh with the information, but that would be the most likely outcome.”
Yates, who missed all but six games with the San Diego Padres in 2020 after undergoing a procedure to remove bone chips from the elbow of his throwing arm, is now in line to miss the entire 2021 campaign after signing a one-year, $5.5 million deal with the Jays this offseason.
“Our take is that he was healthy, he had no pain, no symptoms whatsoever,” Atkins said in speaking on the team’s signing of Yates back in January. “We knew it was very high risk with the potential of high reward… It would be better to have a medical expert say chronic versus acute or acute on chronic, but this is part of it with someone that was coming off of a procedure. … Just part of it that didn’t work out for the Blue Jays this year.”
The 33-year-old appeared twice for Toronto in Spring Training, tossing one shutout inning on March 11, before throwing two more scoreless innings on the 20th. He will now most likely be forced out of the 2021 campaign altogether.
“You’re always bummed. Especially for the man – for Kirby himself, a guy that didn’t get to pitch much last year and shows up this year expecting to be a big piece of the back of our bullpen,” said fellow Jays reliever Ross Stripling. “And he still might be … but when you hear something like that, especially elbow stuff, you just feel for the guy.”
Similarly to last season, the Jays will now be forced to use a ‘committee’ approach in the bullpen. After losing Ken Giles to Tommy John in the early going, Toronto rallied around Anthony Bass, Jordan Romano and Rafael Dolis. This season, Tyler Chatwood, Ryan Borucki and David Phelps will now be called up on to help close out games.
Adding to Atkins and the Jays’ troubles is news of a fluke accident surrounding the league’s first offseason signing, Robbie Ray. The 29-year-old starter slipped down the stairs while carrying one of his children – yes, preposterous – and is currently dealing with a bruised elbow, which will likely keep him off the mound for at least one start – albeit Spring Training.
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Having already lost top prospect Nate Pearson to a nagging groin issue and Thomas Hatch to yet another elbow inflammation problem, both the rotation and the bullpen will be working on minimal rest during the team’s 16-straight games between April 3-18 to start the season.
Making matters even worse is the fact that George Springer‘s ‘tight oblique’ has turned into a Grade 2 oblique sprain.
“He is obviously an extremely motivated, extremely tough, extremely competitive individual,” Atkins said. “He is extremely driven to be ready for opening day. But because of the MRI — we’ll be careful not to overtreat the MRI — but because of the MRI you won’t see him playing for the next few days.”
Atkins, who remains hopeful to see Springer in his Opening Day lineup, does know that his prized offseason acquisition has done everything in his power to be ready for a strong 2021 campaign.
“His symptoms and all of his baseball movements and patterns are incredibly encouraging,” Atkins said. “We’re extremely optimistic about his strength, about his range of motion, especially his rotational movement that he could be playing baseball very soon… It can’t be reiterated enough, our inability to recreate that pain or for him to feel significant loss of strength or range of motion is extremely encouraging. George Springer came into camp in incredible shape — and still is — and just has what we hope will be a minor setback.”