Eric Hinske appeared to be a cornerstone for a Toronto team desperate to improve after the 2002 season. He never got to lead a Blue Jays resurgence, but he’s played a large role in the Tampa Bay Rays’ surprising start.
Hinske, a rookie of the year with Toronto six years ago and now a mainstay in the Rays’ lineup, looks to continue his hot hitting against the Blue Jays this season when the teams play the middle game of their series Wednesday night.
In 2002, Hinske set career highs with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs en route to earning AL rookie of the year honors with Toronto, which went 78-84 that season. The Blue Jays never made the playoffs in Hinske’s four full seasons in Toronto, and it’s now been 15 years since they’ve made the postseason.
Toronto (16-18) traded Hinske to Boston in August 2006, then he became a free agent the following offseason and signed a minor league contract with Tampa Bay. Now, Hinske is the everyday designated hitter for a Rays team on track for its best season in franchise history.
Hinske hit his seventh homer of the year as Tampa Bay (17-15) beat Toronto 5-4 on Tuesday night, snapping the Blue Jays’ five-game winning streak and improving to 4-0 in the season series. The Rays are in second place in the AL East, two games ahead of last-place Toronto.
“The first game of a series, it’s a big win for us, a huge win for us,” Hinske said.
Hinske has given Tampa Bay a boost in the middle of its order. He leads the team in home runs, is tied for the team lead with six doubles and has driven in 16 while batting .289.
Against the Blue Jays this season, Hinske is batting .467 (7-for-15) with two home runs, two doubles, a triple and six RBIs.
Hinske and the Rays’ lineup will be trying to help Matt Garza (1-0, 6.16) post consecutive wins. Garza won for the first time in four starts Thursday, giving up two runs and three hits in six innings as Tampa Bay beat Baltimore 4-2.
The right-hander, though, was terrible in his only career start against Toronto, allowing seven runs and eight hits in 2 2-3 innings for Minnesota on Aug. 11, 2006, and the Twins lost 7-1.
The Blue Jays will counter with Shaun Marcum (3-2, 2.70 ERA), who is 1-1 with a 1.32 ERA in his last two starts. The right-hander gave up two hits while striking out nine in 6 2-3 innings as Toronto beat the Chicago White Sox 2-0 on Friday night.
Marcum has not allowed a run in one start and one relief appearance spanning 8 1-3 innings against the Rays, defeating them in a start last May 13.
It’s uncertain, however, who will be playing shortstop behind Marcum. Toronto lost David Eckstein and John McDonald to injuries Thursday. Eckstein left in the fifth inning with a sore right groin and McDonald, his replacement, had to leave after injuring his right ankle in the sixth.
“That doesn’t happen too often,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “That’s not a good situation. I wouldn’t expect to see either one of them for a few days.”
Marco Scutaro replaced McDonald, who was taken off the field on a cart.