Blue Jays’ season had bright spots

Finding the silver lining was tough, but a few positives came out of the 2012 season

Chad Jenkins shows the umpire the ball inside his glove  (Courtesy james_in_to)

The season that never was is, perhaps for most, finally over.

Inflated hopes carried over from spring training into a competitive April that eclipsed Jose Bautista’s slump, and the fact that there was no definite fifth starter until the end of the month.

It’s been a forgettable season for the Toronto Blue Jays, at best, marred by injury, poor performance, and laughable moments. At some point, the small sample sizes grew bigger, and the long season couldn’t end soon enough.

Not to say that all was lost, but the silver lining wasn’t always clear. Here are three of the best surprises of the 2012 season:

Chad Jenkins

The 20th overall pick for the Blue Jays in the 2009 amateur draft was supposed to be a very likely pitching call up for the 2012 season.

When pitcher after pitcher went down on the major-league roster, Jenkins wasn’t a viable option. He wasn’t even close.

When he began his season in Double-A New Hampshire, things didn’t look so good for the 24-year-old Tennessee native.

In 20 games started on the farm, Jenkins had opponents batting over .300 against him, allowing 145 hits and walking 31.

Perhaps it was the adrenaline of his major-league debut on the line that saw Jenkins turn his season around with the big club.

He was called up on Aug. 5 to join the failing bullpen, and didn’t officially have an ERA until his sixth appearance when he gave up a home run to David Murphy of the Texas Rangers.

“I enjoy the role I have now,” Jenkins told the National Post. “And I enjoy being in the big leagues. That’s it right there. If I have to be a reliever to stay, I’d gladly be a reliever.”

Jenkins was added to the rotation to make the tally six men, and his first start against Tampa Bay on Sept. 23 can perhaps give a glimpse into what things may come from No. 64.

Although Jenkins took the loss in the game, he allowed just two hits over five innings of work. He struck out four Rays before being replaced at 66 pitches, a move not surprising for a young hurler easing into a starting role.

Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has stated that Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero are the only sure things on the 2013 rotation, but there’s no reason why Jenkins’ flexible attitude and good showing on the turf can’t be strongly considered.

Carlos Villanueva

The veteran’s contributions shouldn’t have come as a surprise this season because it’s not the first time he’s stepped up his game to help the Blue Jays out.

In 2011, it was demotions that brought Villanueva to centre stage, as the starting rotation, piece by piece, was sent packing for Vegas.

Villanueva provided the relief that the rotation needed before a huge jump in innings after 13 starts (over double from the 52 he worked in 2010) sent him to the disabled list with a strained forearm.

This time around, the starting rotation saw quality start after quality start, going deep into ball games and not giving the revamped Blue Jays’ bullpen much work.

Their hot streak was snapped not by poor performances, but by major injuries. Some season-ending, some all-star bid ending.

Once again, Villanueva was called up to step into the rotation. This year’s model was leaner, stronger, and attributed his changes to better preparation and growing up.

“I knew going into the off-season that I had to change something,” Villanueva said after a start in August. “It seemed like every other year for the last 11 years I’d been doing the same thing … maybe it took getting injured for the first time, I just wanted to make sure that it didn’t happen again.”

The 28-year-old was named Player of the Month in July by the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers Association Of America (BBWAA), his first time receiving such an honour.

In his best month, he was a perfect 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA. Opponents were held to a .183 batting average, and the right-hander has struck out a career-high eight batters twice during the season.

The pending free agent has made his desire to be a starter known, and it’s up to the front office to decide if the pleasant surprise, and anchor of their rotation in 2012 is worth keeping around.

Carlos Villanueva delivers a pitch at Rogers Centre (Courtesy James_in_to)

Rajai Davis

In the end, the battle for left field was won by the most unlikely of candidates.

Eric Thames, the incumbent in left was demoted after a dismal May, and 31-year-old Davis took his place while Travis Snider waited in the wings.

All it took for the Blue Jays’ fourth outfielder to step up was seemingly more time at the plate.

In Davis’ best season (2009 with Oakland), he posted a .305 average in 125 games. He stole 41 bases, and went long just three times.

This season in 139 games with Toronto, Davis has been a candidate for catch of the year, has swiped 45 bases, and homered a career-best eight times.

It’s important to note that Davis has been second in the American League in stolen bases for most of the season, behind Angels’ rookie sensation Mike Trout. The 20-year-old Trout has 546 at bats, while Davis, eleven years his senior, has just 434.

Davis has a $3-million club option for 2013 with a $500,000 buyout. With young outfielders Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra making their debuts with the big club this season, Davis may find his every day spot back on the bench as a late-inning choice to inject speed into the game.