Blue Jays face curveball machine in BP

Gibbons: Pregame exercise intended to keep hitters fresh amid early slump

Blue Jays face curveball machine in BP

TORONTO -- Looking to break an ice cold offensive start, the majority of the Blue Jays' lineup took the field early for an extended batting practice prior to their series opener against the Orioles on Thursday.

Toronto's session included rounds hitting off the curveball machine as they look to rebound from a shutout loss that capped two straight losses to the Milwaukee Brewers.

"They were working on the breaking ball," said manager John Gibbons before the game. "The machine was feeding it. But these guys work all the time. They work together, they work every day. Sometimes to the extreme."

Entering play on Thursday, the Blue Jays ranked last in Major League Baseball with a .190 team average. Gibbons says that the addition to batting practice was intended to keep his hitters fresh against those breaking pitches.

"You're seeing the flight path," Gibbons said. "It's just like taking BP before the game, you know, it's not as hard as you'd see in the game. It's just getting your swing right, feeling good, that kind of thing."

Toronto has faced fewer breaking balls this season according to Statcast™ data, dropping from 27.9% in 2016 to 24.5% in '17. They've had less success against those pitches, however, with their team average dropping from .212 last season to .182 this April.

Steve Pearce is one of several Blue Jays regulars off to a slow start at the plate. The veteran downplayed any dramatic shift in how the Blue Jays are being pitched to, but believes that the lineup's early struggles have opened the door for opposing pitchers.

"It comes with the territory," Pearce said. "I played with the Orioles last year, and when you're bopping, you don't get pitched the same. Pitchers tend to be more careful. At the same time, we're not swinging the bats too well right now, so they're coming at us a little harder."

Donaldson getting closer

Josh Donaldson is progressing in his return to third base from a calf injury. When Donaldson has slotted in as the designated hitter recently, Kendrys Morales has played defensively at first base.

"He's feeling better," Gibbons said prior to Thursday's game. "There's no doubt about that, but I couldn't tell you when. I don't think he's too far off, but I don't know for sure."

Keegan Matheson is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.