Notes: Bottom of the order performing
Hill, Zaun and Clayton hitting .300 over first six Jays games
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays expect to have a potent offense. What has come as a pleasant surprise in the season's early going, though, is the production Toronto has received from the bottom third of the lineup.
Through six games, the primary Nos. 7-9 hitters -- second baseman Aaron Hill, catcher Gregg Zaun, and shortstop Royce Clayton -- were hitting .300 as a group with one home run, seven doubles and 11 RBIs. During Monday night's win over the Royals, that trio combined to go 5-for-11 with four of Toronto's nine runs scored.
"That's the thing that's going to be important for this lineup, to go out and score runs from top to bottom," Toronto center fielder Vernon Wells said. "That's what we were able to do [on Monday]. The seven, eight, and nine [hitters] had great nights. When we're able to do that, we have the potential to win a lot of games."
Toronto manager John Gibbons pointed out that a deep lineup is a necessity in order to compete in the American League. The heart of the Jays' order includes sluggers like Wells, Frank Thomas and Troy Glaus, but it could be the bottom of the lineup that keeps Toronto in contention with teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Tigers, among others.
"If you really look at it, the American League is so talented," Gibbons said. "There's so many good teams out there that are solid one through nine, especially your top teams. One through nine, they hit. So you need that, too."
One player that has impressed Gibbons is Hill, who posted a .291 average last season as a sophomore in the Majors. Entering Tuesday's game, Toronto's second baseman was hitting .348 with a homer and six RBIs. Hill could eventually bat second, but the Jays' lineup depth will keep him in the seventh or eighth spot for most of this season.
"He's only going to get better and better," Gibbons said. "He's one of those guys who was born to hit. He's had it since Day 1. He's a confident kid. He knows he's good and that's a big part of it."
Lineup tweaks: Gibbons made some changes to the lineup for Tuesday's contest against Kansas City. Matt Stairs batted sixth and started in left field in place of Reed Johnson, who was given the day off. Right fielder Alex Rios moved into the leadoff spot. Jason Smith and Jason Phillips spelled shortstop Clayton and catcher Zaun, respectively.
"In the next couple days, we'll probably give Rios a day off," Gibbons said. "You never know how much you're going to need a guy, so you have to get him some at-bats to try to keep his timing."
Problem solved: Before roping a pitch from Odalis Perez down the right-field line for a three-run double Monday night, Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay had managed just one hit in 15 career at-bats against the Royals left-hander. So, what was the difference?
"He finally threw me some sliders," said Overbay, who saw three such pitches in the at-bat. "He'd throw me changeups before. The way I swung at those first two sliders, I don't blame him for throwing a third, but he left it up."
The countdown: Entering Tuesday, Jays designated hitter Thomas sat 12 homers shy of 500 for his career, and five homers behind Fred McGriff and Lou Gehrig for 21st on the all-time list with 493.
Tall task: Chris Bosh, the Toronto Raptors' 6-foot-10 power forward, was on hand at Rogers Centre Tuesday night to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. The '07 NBA All-Star fired a strike to kick off the Jays' second home game of the season.
Quotable: "He's done a lot for me since I've been managing here. There's something to be said for that. You can't forget those things." --Gibbons, on right-hander Josh Towers, who made his first start of the year Tuesday
Coming up: Toronto left-hander Gustavo Chacin (0-0, 4.50 ERA) is scheduled to take the mound when the Blue Jays host the Royals in the finale of a three-game set at 7:07 p.m. ET on Wednesday at Rogers Centre. Kansas City will counter with lefty Jorge De La Rosa (1-0, 1.29 ERA).
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.