You could forgive Dunedin Blue Jays Manager Luis Hurtado if he was feeling kind of pessimistic.
His D-Jays, one of MiLB’s youngest teams, have gone 0-4 against the Yankees powerful Tampa affiliate, with a run differential of 33 after last night’s lopsided 25-10 loss to the Tarpons.
But the career Blue Jay isn’t looking for sympathy, even though he probably has been able to get his daily steps in just with his trips to the mound this week.
“I’m just so glad our young guys are getting to play again,” he said yesterday in an interview. “We’ve got 117 games left in the season, I’m not worried.”
As with Vancouver Manager Donnie Murphy, who we spoke to in a Zoom call last week, Hurtado said just getting the players together for a workout has been tough. “Because of Covid (restrictions), we can’t have team meetings or anything like that,” he explained.
What does give Hurtado reason for optimism is that 85% of his team has received the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine, and with the Blue Jays making it official this past week that they will be vacating TD Bank Ballpark in Dunedin at the beginning of June, his charges will finally be able to move into their home ballpark. Hurtado is optimistic that some of the Covid protocols will gradually be lifted as the virus slowly is brought under control.
The D-Jays have a 30-man roster to start the season, and by the looks of things, they’re going to need it. Hurtado is going with a six-man rotation to reflect the new schedule, but he’s made 20 pitching changes in the first 4 games of the season already. Not only is his team one of the youngest, with a large Latin content, there has been a considerable amount of explaining and coaching to do with the players around the whole Covid situation.
All is not doom and gloom, as the D-Jays offence sits 3rd in the league in OPS so far. This is a team that can put runs on the board, starting with SS Orelvis Martinez, who hit his first HR of the season Thursday night, and is just starting to heat up. “The coaching staff and I were talking about him just this morning,” Hurtado confided. “You know, Tuesday (Opening) night was the first time he’s played a game under the lights anywhere.” Hurtado lauded Martinez’ work ethic, and said he’s going to live up to the hype down the road.
Converted catcher Zach Britton also came in for some praise. “Our scouting department said he’d have real value at that position,” he said about last year’s 5th round pick. Britton had caught earlier in his college career, but was drafted as an OF. “He has a catcher’s body, and he’s made incredible improvements in his defence in a short time.”
On reliever Lazara Estrada, a Cuban whose spin rates on this curveball have been in excess of 3100 on average, Hurtado said, “I had him in Bluefield (in 2019), and he’s always been able to spin a curveball, but he’s taken a real jump with it this year.”
2B Miguel Hiraldo, who Luis also had at Bluefield in 2019 had goteen off to a slow start, but Manager Hurtado pointed out the number of games left to play. As if on cue, Miguel burst out last night in the loss to Tampa, going 4-6 with a pair of doubles.
As for SS Leo Jimenez, who apparently is injured and was left off Dunedin’s Opening Day roster, Hurtado informed that he’s doing well, and he’ll be getting into game progressions next week. He gave no indication as to when we’ll see RHP Sem Robberse, but doing the math of the six-man rotation, he should make his Low A Southeast debut today.
RHP Yosver Zulueta, who sources said was out for the season after blowing out his knee earlier in the week after only three pitches, was headed for an MRI yesterday, according to Hurtado. “It was kind of rough to see,” Hurtado admitted. “He was just going to field a ground ball, and landed kind of awkwardly on his right leg.” The Blue Jays medical staff have yet to confirm a diagnosis, but it does seem likely that Zulueta, who was sitting 97-99 this spring in his return from Tommy John surgery, will be out for a while.
The automatic strike zone the Low A Southeast League is using this year has been called into question somewhat, given the high number of walks the loop has seen to date. “It’s only been a couple of games, so I don’t want to make a judgement,” Hurtado explained, but he did agree that pitchers have been finding it tight. “But it’s that way for both teams,” he reasoned.
Even with his team off to an 0-4 start, Hurtado feels positive about the future, envisioning a growing team with a top of the lineup featuring Jimenez, Hiraldo, Martinez, Britton, and Mackenzie Mueller. The D-Jays have been without a home since the end of 2018 with the razing of the former Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. “I’m just so happy the town of Dunedin will have baseball games again,” he added.
Worcester 4 Buffalo 2
The visiting Red Sox scored three runs off of T.J. Zeuch in the 4th inning last night to hand the home Bisons/Thunder their second straight loss.
Tayler Saucedo tossed three scoreless innings for his second such outing of the season, and Cullen Large had a pair of hits to raise his average to .438 on the young season.
Portland 9 New Hampshire 4
A 6th inning grand slam off of reliever Fitz Stadler blew a tight 4-3 contest wide open as the Sea Dogs took their third straight game from the Fisher Cats.
Starter Kyle Johnston threw only three innings before the bullpen took over, but New Hampshire had kept things close until that 6th inning blast.
Austin Martin made his first start of the season at SS, and made a fine defensive play in the 5th. Gaby Moreno had a pair of hits (raising his average to .462), as did Demi Orimoloye and Kevin Vicuña.
Tri-City 10 Vancouver 6
2020 2nd round pick C.J. Van Eyk had a case of the jitters in his pro debut, as the C’s dropped a 10-6 decision to Tri-City.
Van Eyk failed to get out of a 42 pitch first inning in which he gave up 4 runs (all earned), allowing 3 hits and a pair of walks. Two wild pitches helped to bring about an end to Van Eyk’s outing with two out in that first frame.
The C’s, who had staked Van Eyk to a one run lead, fought back to take the lead back with a four run 2nd, but the Dust Devils tied the game in the bottom half, and took the lead for good with a pair of runs in the 3rd.
Spencer Horwitz led the way offensively for Vancouver, reaching base three times in a 1-3 night, as well as a bases clearing double.
Tampa 25 Dunedin 10
The host Tarpons pounded out 18 hits, and Dunedin pitchers contributed 11 walks as the Yankees affiliate put another double-digit beating on the D-Jays.
There were bright spots for Dunedin: reliever Brandon Eisert threw two-plus scoreless innings with 4 Ks, while 2B Miguel Hurtado was 4-6, and OF Eric Rivera was 4-4.