TORONTO – Everything seemed to be set up nicely on Victoria Day for Blue Jays fans eager to celebrate the team’s star attraction on a holiday matinee against a top-flight opponent.
Instead Vladimir Guerrero Jr., sat on the bench for his scheduled rest day, kicking social media into overdrive and giving local columnists plenty of fodder.
The rookie third baseman was coming off a breakout performance on last week’s road trip. The Boston Red Sox were in town and a decent crowd was on hand for a change at Rogers Centre.
The appetite to see one of the best young players in the major leagues was much higher than normal. But with the Blue Jays in the middle of a 16-game stretch without a day off, it was Guerrero’s turn to sit.
Perhaps hoping to quiet the blowback, Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins held a pre-game availability Tuesday to discuss the situation. He said manager Charlie Montoyo makes the call on the lineup each day.
“Really it’s Charlie’s process,” Atkins said. “We have given him a lot of tools and resources and there’s a lot of things to factor in into those decisions. And we ask a lot for him to factor in.
“One of the things that we don’t ask him to think about is when fans may or may not be here when he decides on everyone’s playing time.”
Montoyo has said the team has a schedule in place for when each of the regular starters will sit out and Monday happened to be Guerrero’s turn.
Guerrero was named American League player of the week midway through the 12-2 blowout loss in the series opener. He had a slow start after his callup last month but found his form during last week’s road trip, belting four homers and hitting .333 with nine RBIs over six games.
Sitting Guerrero for the showcase game — one of a handful in a rebuilding season — quickly became a hot topic as fans vented on local sports radio call-in shows.
Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star didn’t mince words in her column Tuesday.
“There’s just no measuring the tone-deafness of this franchise in the Shapiro era,” she wrote.
Toronto Sun baseball writer Rob Longley weighed in on the issue via Twitter:
“Not sure how Bluejays management could be so out of touch with what has been a loyal and enthusiastic fan base. Sitting red-hot Vlad Guerrero Jr. on a national holiday is a big middle finger to fans with tickets and those watching on TV.”
Montoyo, in his first season as Toronto’s manager, returned Guerrero to his usual No. 2 spot in the lineup for Tuesday night’s game against the Red Sox.
“The one thing that I regret in all of the things that we have talked about with Charlie, I had not talked to him about the importance of Victoria Day,” Atkins said. “There are a lot of things in Canadian culture and about this great country that I have talked to him about, but I did not share with him the importance of Victoria Day.”
An announced crowd of 26,784 — much larger than usual — took in the holiday action.
Atkins also listed some of the variables — performance, matchup information, fatigue, workload, travel, night game, day game, etc. — that the skipper must contemplate before deciding on his lineup.
“When the fans are coming, we’ve never asked him to factor that in,” he said.
The GM added that he thinks it can sometimes be “intuition” for managers to think about playing key players, or potentially star players, on important days like holiday games.
“The reason being is that players want to play in those games,” he said. “I think when there is a lot of attention and more fanfare, it is important to get players into those games. So as I said, I think where the potential breakdown and my potential mistake was in not talking more to him about the importance of Victoria Day.
“We have had discussions about Canada Day. There are things about this culture that are unique that we want to celebrate.”
Before Tuesday’s game, the Blue Jays announced that right-hander Ryan Tepera was placed on the 10-day injured list with a right elbow impingement. Right-hander Jimmy Cordero was recalled from triple-A Buffalo.
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