TORONTO – You know a baseball team is red hot when it's rolling out different heroes each day.
Edwin Encarnacion carried the torch for two days at Fenway Park this week; Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista have had their moments; lately Anthony Gose has contributed.
In Friday night's edge-of-your-seat, 3-2 victory over Oakland, the heroes were different.
One of them made his Blue Jays debut, Liam Hendriks, a 25-year-old who grew up on the other side of the world in Australia. Just up from Triple-A Buffalo, he'd managed to fly his wife, Kristi, up from Fort Myers, Florida. His mother, Debbie, was home watching him pitch, sipping a Saturday morning coffee while he toiled on a Friday night.
Another, Steve Tolleson, is playing for his third major league team and in his sixth big league organization.
Oh, and there's still Encarnacion, although it was his defence Blue Jays' fans would celebrate on this night, his home run bat tucked away but likely to reemerge at any moment.
Hendriks pitched 5 2/3 innings of one run ball. He allowed three hits and walked three Athletics. At times he was hit hard, needing almost every inch of the 375 feet to the power alleys and the 400 feet to dead centerfield.
But, as is the case when a team is rolling, things seem to go its way.
"I felt really good early," said Hendriks. "I kind of got away from my game plan a little bit in the last couple of innings but the defence picked me up big time. I mean, when you've got guys like this behind you it gives you that much extra confidence that you can go out there and you're not having to strike everybody out. It's fantastic."
Entering the game Hendriks had two career wins and an ERA north of six spread over parts of three seasons with Minnesota. He won his third career game. His ERA came down.
The 30-year-old Tolleson contributed the big offensive blow, a two out, two-run home run in the second that broke the scoreless tie and gave Toronto a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
The less talked about part of his game were the two big double plays turned in the third and seventh innings. On both occasions, Oakland's Nick Punto slid hard and fair into Tolleson. Each time, he made the turn.
"That's what a second baseman is here to do," said Tolleson. "The main goal is to get the ball turn. On this turf it allows us to play a little bit deeper but when you play deeper it also gives you time to get on you a little bit more. We got some big ones turned today and it was great to come out with that win."
Encarnacion made two great defensive plays. Holding on a runner with two out in the sixth, he came off the bag and dived to his right to snag Josh Reddick's hard hit ground ball. Encarnacion sprung to his feet and slid into first, beating a hustling Reddick to the bag by a couple of steps.
Then in the eighth, Oakland had two on and one out. The Jays led, at the time, 3-1. Yoenis Cespedes hit a flare to shallow right field. Encarnacion tracked the ball, making an over-the-shoulder, basket catch for the second out.
"The last week or so I think he's played as good as I've ever seen play over there," said manager John Gibbons. "That ball over his head today, I don't know if that's going to hit fair or foul but that's huge at that moment. Eddie, he's a big guy but he's a pretty good athlete."
The Jays have won four in a row, nine of 11 and 14 of 19.
R.A. Dickey will make the start on Saturday afternoon and with the forecast calling for a clear day and 23C, the roof may be open.
Oakland will counter with former Blue Jay Jesse Chavez.
There have been times, since his return from tightness in his right hamstring, that Jose Reyes has had trouble getting to ground balls which require a number of strides to either his left or his right.
Reyes disputes any suggestion he's struggled defensively.
"I think I've been playing very good defence," Reyes told TSN.ca. "I feel like everything is there. Last year I had a tough time going to my left side because my ankle but this year my ankle has been 100-percent. I feel like I'm moving around the field very good. I have no problem."
Reyes is right on both counts. His defence is much better than last year and he can blame his ankle injury for decreased range. According to fangraphs.com Reyes' Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), a mathematical equation which calculates the number of runs saved or given up by a defender, is -1.1 so far this year. That's a big improvement over his -5.3 of 2013. Still, the calculation suggests Reyes is an average to below-average defender.
The great equalizer is Reyes' plus arm. Typically, if he gets to the ball he will throw the runner out.
Reyes insists he's healthy. The way he's running the bases, he's stolen seven and been caught only once and has appeared comfortable stretching base hits into doubles, reflects his claim.
Running the bases and playing shortstop make different demands on the body.
"When you run the bases you just run the bases but when you go side to side there are different steps you have to make," said Reyes. "I think it's a little different. But like I said, everything feels good. My hamstring now, thank God, is 100-percent. I can go full out no problem."
JANSSEN BACK IN FORM
Casey Janssen is a perfect six-for-six in save opportunities since his return from an oblique strain on May 12.
He hasn't thrown more than 19 pitches in any of his six appearances – that number reached in his first outing – and he's had a runner in scoring position only once.
For a guy who missed most of spring training due to shoulder discomfort and then didn't throw for most of April thanks to the oblique problem, Janssen hasn't missed a beat.
Don't expect a cake and balloons celebration, though.
"I'm not satisfied unless I'm darn near perfect," said Janssen. "That's the expectation I put on myself. I haven't thought of it as 'Oh, I'm doing so great,' I'm just doing what I hope and expect to do."
Janssen picked up his fourth and fifth saves on Tuesday and Wednesday nights in Boston. Manager John Gibbons said after the game on Wednesday he wouldn't use Janssen on a third-straight day. Then, on Thursday afternoon, Gibbons suggested Janssen had asked not to be ruled out.
Turns out there was no save situation in the series finale, a 7-2 Blue Jays win, but would Janssen have been available?
"Do I think I could have? Yes. Do I think that in a smart, perfect world, do they need to push that right then? Probably not," said Janssen. "It's a long year. We've got hopefully a lot of wins to come if we continue to play like we're going to play we're going to be in a race in August and September. I think that's when you push guys a little bit more to their limits."
With an inning under his belt in Friday's 3-2 win, Janssen has pitched on three of the last four days and on four of the last seven. Time will tell how he holds up but since his return, he's answered the call each time he's been needed.
ROGERS DESIGNATED FOR ASSIGNMENT
The Blue Jays are loathe to expose pitching depth to waivers but thanks to his poor start and the need to create a roster spot for Friday night's starter, Liam Hendriks, reliever Esmil Rogers was designated for assignment.
"He'd been scuffling," said manager John Gibbons. "We had to make a move with somebody. We want to get a look at Rasmussen and see what he can do."
After a solid 2013 season, his first in Toronto, which saw Rogers pitch effectively in relief and make 20 starts to cover injuries in the rotation, he never got on track this year.
In 16 relief appearances, 20 2/3 innings, Rogers posted a 6.97 ERA and a 5.34 FIP. Most egregious was the home runs against number. The five Rogers' allowed was the most on the pitching staff, starters included.
Rogers' final appearance came on Wednesday at Fenway Park. He entered the game in the eighth with the Blue Jays leading 6-1. He was touched for three runs on three hits and turned a comfortable lead into a nailbiter.
"I don't think you can pin it on one outing," said Gibbons. "It's been a struggle for him."
Rogers, 28, was acquired from Cleveland for Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles on November 3, 2012. He was, indirectly, the asset the Blue Jays had from John Farrell's departure to the Red Sox.
Rogers is owed $1.85 million this season.