After Josh Thole’s performance in Anaheim, do the Toronto Blue Jays really need him?
No one doubts Toronto Blue Jays‘ catcher Josh Thole has a rare ability to catch the knuckleball – he may be the very best person on all of earth to catch R.A. Dickey. However, maybe it’s that he can’t call the knuckleball correctly.
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Russell Martin is beat up – there is no question about that – but since first catching for Dickey, he has done a good job of it. By that, I mean Dickey’s results have proved so, as he steadily warmed up to Martin, to the point he was among the top three pitchers in baseball since the All-Star break (until his last start prior to Sunday’s).
Then what happened? Okay, he had a bad outing in Philadelphia, facing the last place Phillies. Some may say he was due for a bad start, and they could be right.
He gave up five earned runs in just four innings of work, while giving up two walks and a homer. The Jays bailed him out though, by scoring nine runs – but giving the win to Liam Hendriks in relief.
Okay, so that’s forgiven– especially when looking at his stellar production since the All-Star break. So what happened next?
Aug 23, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson (20) hits a ball into a double play which a run scored against the Los Angeles Angels during the ninth inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. The Toronto Blue Jays won 12-5. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Before Dickey’s next start, Thole was called up, solely to catch Dickey and give Martin some rest. The catcher entered the action at the bottom of the first in Anaheim, playing with a 1-0 lead thanks to an RBI from AL MVP candidate Josh Donaldson.
Unfortunately, Dickey gave up five runs in just one inning against the faltering Angels, who the Jays had completely cleaned the first two games of this series, by a cumulative 24-5 score. (After such discrepancy, one could only expect a sweep – anything less would be unfair.)
So I think it’s fair to wonder if Thole, while being a good catcher of the knuckleball, maybe just can’t call it, or the right pitches? I mean, I know some of the calls for pitches come from the dugout from manager John Gibbons, pitching coach Pete Walker and co.
However, Thole must be calling some for himself – whether it be location, speed, or type of pitch – right? And this is a prime reason the Jays brought in Martin, to call the right pitches and frame them.
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(Just so you know, I wrote most of this article during the first inning as Dickey gave up five, and I was mad that the Jays were losing after deserving a sweep the previous games – so I feel that should be noted. If I successfully jinxed what I was writing about, as I do fear happens, YOU’RE WELCOME!)
So, what happened in the game? A BAIL OUT OF EPIC PROPORTIONS! Okay, Dickey did settle down, and maybe Thole just needed an inning to get back into the groove, but thankfully the Jays came back and scored 12 runs.
The narrative would be completely different if they hadn’t. And this may be where this story – just a slight reminder that all wasn’t rosy this weekend – comes in handy for a little reality check.
Dickey, somehow, still picked up the win, despite allowing 11 hits in six innings. (Maybe R.A. is the new Drew Hutchison, in the sense he can pitch poorly and still get the win – opposite to his fortune at the start of the season.)
May 25, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays catcher Josh Thole (22) during batting practice before a game against the Chicago White Sox at Rogers Centre. The Toronto Blue Jays won 6-0. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
A great offense can cover up a lot. The Jays can’t be expected to come back and score 12 runs every game hough.
But they did Sunday, with the W putting the Jays in first place, so what’s the use crying over a minor detail? Remember though, I started writing this before they started the scoring assault, but the point is still valid: we’re not scoring 12 runs every game.
That was the Jays’ first series win against LA since 2007 and it marks the most runs the Jays have ever scored in three game series (36). That’s a +160 run differential on the season, so Toronto should be in first.
Hitting: Okay, everybody knows Thole isn’t here for his bat. Plus, the Jays don’t really need him to be a hitter since they’re the number one offence in baseball today.
However, it wouldn’t hurt if he could contribute, right? Sunday, in the inning after he and Dickey gave up a five-spot, Thole stepped to the plate with no one out, runners on first and second.
In a pretty obvious bunt situation, did he try to put the Jays in position to get some of the runs Dickey allowed back with a bunt? No. He swung away and struck out… and didn’t even touch the ball. He was a completely wasted out.
His final line: 0 for 3, two strikeouts, four left on base.
The Jays have won 19 of 23, which seems completely ridiculous. Maybe we can afford to have Thole after all?
With hitting performances like that, sure. But as I said, the Jays can’t expect that every time.
Thole is a weak link, and the question must be raised whether his handling of Dickey’s balls causes too much of a mess. He can catch the knuckleball as good as anyone in history, but can he call it too?
Let’s hope this isn’t a story we look back at…. or let’s just hope that Martin can get back to high gear fast.