Notes: New roles suit Wells, Rios
Center fielder has hit .297 with seven home runs at top of order
BOSTON -- Maybe there's nothing to it. Still, manager John Gibbons believes he's seen a difference in Vernon Wells and Alex Rios since the pair switched spots in the lineup.
"It's funny," Gibbons said on Saturday at Fenway Park. "We were talking about this yesterday. Since Vernon's been in the leadoff spot, and even Alex hitting in the third hole, they're both more disciplined than I've ever seen them.
"It may not even be the case, but that's my perception."
Peering at the statistics, it appears as though Gibbons might be on to something after all. Granted, the numbers Wells and Rios have accumulated in their relatively new lineup roles provide a small sample, but there is a noticeable difference.
Through 15 starts as Toronto's leadoff hitter, Wells has looked more patient at the plate and has hit .297 (19-for-64) with seven home runs and 16 RBIs. As the Jays' No. 3 batter this season, he has posted a .230 (50-for-217) average with five homers and 24 RBIs over 55 games.
Rios served as Toronto's primary leadoff man earlier this season while Reed Johnson was on the disabled list. In that role, Rios hit .283 (67-for-237) with 12 home runs and 30 RBIs over 56 starts. Entering Saturday's action, the right fielder had started nine games in the No. 3 spot and was hitting .382 (13-for-34) with two homers and seven RBIs.
"He's doing more damage on mistakes," Gibbons said of Rios, who carried an eight-game hitting streak into Saturday's game. "When they're making pitches he can handle, he's not missing them."
Gibbons originally moved Wells into the leadoff spot in an attempt to ignite the slumping center fielder's offense, and planned on sliding him back to the third spot once he began performing better. But considering that the Jays have gone 10-5 with Wells batting first, Gibbons has been hesitant to take him out of that role.
"We'll see," said Gibbons when asked if Wells might be moved back into the No. 3 spot eventually. "Ideally, you'd like to give him more RBI opportunities."
The short of it: John McDonald has started at shortstop for the Jays in each of the first three games of the second half. Gibbons has been using McDonald more than veteran shortstop Royce Clayton recently, and that will likely continue to be the case.
"You try to use them both," said Gibbons, downplaying Clayton's decreasing playing time. "[McDonald] has done a nice job. He's a tougher out than he used to be. He puts the ball in play."
Entering Saturday, McDonald -- a career .242 hitter -- had a .278 average in 63 games. Gibbons also noted that Toronto has put on a hit-and-run "probably 60 percent of the time" when McDonald comes to bat in the proper situation. On the other hand, the 37-year-old Clayton was hitting .236 over 58 games.
"He's still a big part of this," said Gibbons, referring to Clayton. "That's just the way it's setting up right now."
Why Litsch? The question was raised earlier this week as to why the Blue Jays would have rookie Jesse Litsch start instead of Josh Towers in the finale of the four-game set against the Red Sox on Sunday. Towers is slated to start on Monday against the Yankees.
Gibbons said that the reasoning simply stemmed from Litsch's rough outing on May 30 against New York, which hosts Toronto over the next four games. In that start, the right-hander picked up a loss after giving up five runs on four hits in just two-thirds of an inning.
"The way we looked at it was, the last time he faced the Yankees, he had a tough one before we sent him down [to Triple-A]," Gibbons said. "You can basically sum it up that way."
No room: When the Blue Jays signed Victor Zambrano over the winter, the club hoped he'd add some depth to their rotation. But with the emergence of some young arms, and Zambrano needing more time to recover from an arm injury, Toronto decided to give the veteran his unconditional release over the All-Star break.
"The guy worked really hard," general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "It would be unfair for us, at this point, to bump someone for him when he really hasn't pushed the envelope for us. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. He's a good guy. ... We won't close the door on next year for him, but we'll see."
Did you know? Entering Saturday, Wells was hitting .296 with seven home runs and a .593 slugging percentage when facing a pitcher for the second time in a game. In Wells' initial at-bats against an opposing pitcher, he's hit just .247.
Quotable: "It never fails that those guys roll around somehow. Sometimes we think they must bat out of turn or something." --Gibbons, joking on Friday night about Boston sluggers David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez coming to bat in the ninth inning
Coming up: Litsch (1-3, 4.74 ERA) is scheduled to take the mound when the Blue Jays face the Red Sox at 2:05 p.m. ET on Sunday at Fenway Park. Boston will counter with righty Josh Beckett (12-2, 3.44 ERA).
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.