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SportsJansen and McGuire’s battle for playing time moves to the majors

11:50  14 august  2019
11:50  14 august  2019 Source:   thestar.com

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“I played a little first, I played a little third and I pitched,” Charlie Hough said. “I wasn’t really good at any of them.” Jansen had grown up admiring major league catchers, especially Bengie Molina and Henry Blanco. Subscribe to The New York Times . You have 4 free articles remaining.

Jansen and McGuire’s battle for playing time moves to the majors© Tom Szczerbowski Blue Jays catchers Danny Jansen, left, and Reese McGuire will share playing time for the rest of the season, their place in the lineup determined by offensive matchups.

The Blue Jays have a catching problem. They are hardly complaining.

Toronto finds itself in the unique position of boasting a pair of young backstops, Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire, with enough talent to hold down the No. 1 spot behind the dish.

Where most MLB teams roll with at least one veteran catcher — in terms of age and/or experience — Jansen and McGuire are both 24 years old — born 44 days apart in 1995 — and are currently in their second season in the big leagues.

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Jansen, the Jays’ No. 3 prospect when he debuted a year ago, has considerably more experience at the major-league level than McGuire, his 699 1/3 innings behind the plate this season ranking sixth among catchers across baseball. But manager Charlie Montoyo declared open season on Monday when he announced Jansen and McGuire, currently ranked as the club’s No. 26 prospect, would split catching duties the rest of the way, their place in the lineup to be determined by offensive matchups.

“That’s the whole point of this next month and a half,” said Montoyo, who will be holding auditions at more positions than just catcher over the last six-and-a-half weeks of the season as the Jays decide which roles are filled for 2020, and beyond, and where they may need to start supplementing their roster.

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It’s not the first time Jansen and McGuire have gone head-to-head for playing time; the pair has battled for at-bats in the minors since McGuire was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates as part of the return for Drew Hutchinson.

The narrative surrounding the duo paints Jansen as the more offensive of the two, with McGuire the gifted defender — elite at blocking and receiving.

Jays major-league coach John Schneider believes that storyline stems from the 2017 season, when Jansen famously got glasses and went from a .218 hitter to a .323 hitter seemingly overnight.

But Schneider believes both players are capable of managing a major-league pitching staff as well as producing at the plate. More importantly, he believes both players operate with the confidence of a starting catcher, no matter if they are on the lineup card or who else is in the room.

“We can’t do anything about (the competition),” Jansen said. “Our relationship’s always done really well with pushing each other ... We do a really good job of communicating and working together and learning from each other. It’s always been beneficial.”

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Without a veteran presence like former backstop Russell Martin, who the Jays will face on the road next week for the first time since he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the off-season, it’s up to Jansen and McGuire to learn from each other’s successes — and mistakes.

“It’s all about getting experience and getting our feet wet and learning as much as we can,” Jansen said. “That’s the whole goal as rookie catchers ... it’s a job that requires a lot of experience and you never really master it so you’re always working to improve.”

Improving is something Jansen has done a lot of this season. Praise for his refined game-calling came early, but he struggled with the bat as the club’s go-to guy for the first time. Jansen didn’t hit over .200 until July 4. Since then, he is inching his way back to his norm, with a .244 average, five home runs and 16 RBIs in his last 27 games.

The difference between how he is feeling now and how he was feeling earlier this year is night and day for Jansen, who used the words “terrible” and “train wreck” to describe his first half at the plate.

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“Oh my god, it’s ... I’m proud of myself,” he said. “I really am. I never lost hope at all of the player I am, I’m proud of the adjustments I made behind the plate most importantly. I’ve always known I could hit. As long as I just stayed with it, didn’t get too down on myself because it was such a brutal start, it was so easy to get down on yourself ... It’s hard when you want to make such a good impression, you want to take that job and you struggle. I’m just proud of myself for coming out of that.”

McGuire, who had hit .276 with four homers and seven RBIs in his first 22 big-league games before he started against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday, hasn’t been in the big leagues long enough to weather such ups and downs. He likes where he’s at in the batters’ box with his swing and his approach. Getting more opportunities in the next little while is particularly important to McGuire, who the Jays need to see more of in order to make a proper call going into next season.

“Of course I want to be a starter, of course I want to be an every day guy and normally when you get right up to the big leagues it doesn’t happen like that, especially as a catcher,” McGuire said.

Either way, both players are committed to working together toward a common goal: helping the Jays pitchers. And winning.

“We want to make it a unit,” Jansen said. “We can be a really good unit.”

Laura Armstrong is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @lauraarmy

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