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Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr. leading Phase 2 of AL first base All-Star voting

After being named a first base finalist through the first round of voting — finishing second to Baltimore Orioles Ryan Mountcastle — Vladimir Guerrer Jr. has jumped out in front.

TORONTO – It was evident early on Tuesday night that this game would belong to the Toronto Blue Jays’ bullpen.

The Houston Astros put up a five-spot on Blue Jays starter José Berríos in the fifth inning and despite tossing an economical 60 pitches, the right-hander’s night was finished. He escaped the hellish inning but didn’t come back out to start the sixth.

Blue Jays reliever Nate Pearson did and if you’re a fan of the team, you probably held your breath. Leaving a game in the hands of Toronto’s bullpen has seemed like the baseball version of Russian Roulette this season. 

This is a beleaguered group that entered the day with a 4.80 ERA that ranks as the second-worst in MLB and is currently without closer Jordan Romano and setup man Yimi Garcia.

And yet, here it was being asked to nurse a two-run lead. 

That’s exactly what happened Tuesday, though. The bullpen navigated a nervy four innings and ultimately prevailed in the Blue Jays’ 7-6 win over the Astros. 

That was a positive development for the Blue Jays and one the club needs to see more often this month. How the bullpen performs in July will be critical because if the Blue Jays are going to climb out of the massive hole they’ve built for themselves before the trade deadline, they’ll need to do so by improvement from within. Given that the club is eight games behind the third wild-card spot, it’s hard to envision the club adding reinforcements via trade. 

And as far as the bullpen outlook goes, Garcia is progressing from an elbow issue and could rejoin the relief corps within a few weeks but Romano likely won’t return anytime soon. The right-hander visited specialist Dr. Keith Meister in Texas on Tuesday, a meeting that is expected to give the club a better understanding of the next steps for Romano. 

The Blue Jays offence did its job early on Tuesday by jumping on Astros rookie starter Spencer Arrighetti in the early innings. Spencer Horwitz drilled a fastball from Arrighetti off the facing of the second deck for a solo home run that put the Blue Jays up 2-0 in the third inning and that lead expanded later in the frame on George Springer’s three-run bomb. 

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The Blue added two more runs to build a 7-0 cushion that was nearly erased in the fifth inning. The Astros put together a rally against Berrios with Cesar Salazar and Jose Altuve’s consecutive RBI singles and Yordan Alvarez then put a charge into a 3-0 changeup from Berrios, connecting for a three-run homer that capped Houston’s five-run frame and cut the score to 7-5. 

That paved the way for a highwire finish to the game. Pearson tossed two innings of scoreless relief, allowing just one hit while striking out three. Trevor Richards came on for the eighth and was immediately greeted with a high-stress scenario as Alvarez reached on an infield single and advanced to second on an error by Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette. Richards committed his own throwing error and Alvarez later scored on a groundout but he escaped without giving up the lead.

Blue Jays reliever Chad Green allowed a leadoff double but recovered to toss a scoreless ninth and earn his third save of the season. 

Earlier in the day, infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa was placed on the 10-day injured list with a left knee sprain. He’s considered “week to week,” which is a tough blow given Kiner-Falefa’s importance to the club this season. He leads all Blue Jays with 3.2 wins above replacement, per Baseball Reference, and was hitting .354/.400/.488 over his past 23 games. 

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“He’s just such a baseball player and so you miss all the little aspects that he brings every day too,” said Blue Jays manager John Schneider. “And the production has been consistent all year, but lately it’s been great. So yeah, it’s a tough loss.”

The Blue Jays recalled shortstop Leo Jimenez from triple-A Buffalo and the plan is to play him mostly at second base. The 23-year-old, who was signed out of Panama in 2017, is known as a polished defender and is the club’s No. 5 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. Jimenez hit .271 and posted an impressive .416 on-base percentage in 57 games with the Bisons this season.

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