Steve Pearce

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Blue Jays shut down Steve Pearce for the rest of 2017

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The Blue Jays have shut down left fielder Steve Pearce for the remainder of the season following a lingering case of lower back stiffness. Pearce has not appeared in a game since September 8, when he was forced to exit in the first inning after experiencing back pain during his at-bat. Per Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca, he’s scheduled to return to Florida next week, where he’ll receive epidural injections to address the pain.

Pearce, 34, impressed in his first season with Toronto. He battled through a calf injury during the first half of the season and finished the year with a modest .252/.319/.438 batting line, 13 home runs and a .757 OPS through 348 PA. By September, the Blue Jays started testing the waters with outfield prospect Teoscar Hernandez, who shouldered the bulk of the starts in left field after Pearce was sidelined with back issues.

With the Blue Jays all but eliminated from playoff contention, however, there’s no rush to get Pearce back to the outfield. He should be in fine shape to compete for another starting role in spring, and could face stiff competition from Hernandez if the rookie continues building on his .278 average and three home runs this month. The veteran outfielder is slated to receive the remaining $6.25 million on his contract in 2018 and will be eligible for free agency in 2019.

Steve Pearce exits game with lower back stiffness

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Blue Jays’ outfielder Steve Pearce didn’t make it out of the first inning on Friday. He struck out looking against the Tigers’ Buck Farmer and was replaced by rookie left fielder Teoscar Hernandez at the start of the second inning. A later report by the club revealed lower back stiffness, but a timeline for his return has yet to be established.

Pearce, 34, doesn’t appear to have a history of back injuries. He missed 110 days with a combination of calf tightness and a right knee contusion earlier this season, but has been relatively healthy since his return to the field in June and slashed .249/.320/.446 with seven home runs and a .766 OPS in the second half.

Following Pearce’s early exit, Hernandez went 1-for-2 with an RBI double to put the Blue Jays on the board in the fifth. They currently trail the Tigers 4-1 in the bottom of the sixth.

And That Happened: Friday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the rest of Friday’s scores and highlights:

Dodgers 1, Padres 0: Look, the Dodgers did just fine without Clayton Kershaw. They went 23-10 in his absence, matching last year’s 91-win total and garnishing their first-place status in the NL West with a seven-game win streak. Kenta Maeda, Alex Wood, Rich Hill, Yu Darvish and Hyun-Jin Ryu rounded out a mostly-healthy, mostly-dominant rotation that managed to maintain its fifth-best ranking across both leagues, only slightly tempered by a five-game losing streak at the end of August.

With Clayton Kershaw, however, the Dodgers are a different beast altogether. The lefty returned from a 40-day on the disabled list with his 16th win of the season, expending 70 pitches over seven innings of two-hit, seven-strikeout ball. Chase Utley provided the solitary RBI single of the evening, allowing the Dodgers to snap their skid and improve to a full 16 games above the second-place Diamondbacks. Heaven help the contender slated to face this pitching staff come October.

Cubs 2, Braves 0: Speaking of shutdown performances, John Lackey did his best Clayton Kershaw impression during the Cubs’ series opener on Friday afternoon. He wielded seven scoreless frames against the Braves, striking out five of 24 batters and allowing three runs in his best performance of the season. It’s a refreshing change of pace for the right-hander, who entered Friday with a 4.98 ERA and hasn’t given up fewer than five runs in an outing since August 16.

Balancing out the highlight reel? One Kyle Schwarber infield single, which inspired one of Javier Baez‘s incredible sprints in a 6.73-second dash from second base to home plate.

Red Sox 4, Yankees 1: Doug Fister and Sonny Gray matched wits — er, pitches — on Friday night, duking it out in the series opener of their final matchup of the regular season. Each hurler went seven strong, but Fister emerged a clear victor after holding the Yankees to one run and four hits, while Gray took his ninth loss of the year after issuing three home runs to Eduardo Nunez, Andrew Benintendi and Hanley Ramirez. Still, with as evenly matched as the rivals appear to be this season, there’s no reason to think the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka won’t return on Saturday to settle the score.

Reds 7, Pirates 3: First-inning back-to-back RBI doubles from Joey Votto and Adam Duvall supplied all the momentum the Reds needed on Friday, bringing them to an even 5-5 record in their last 10 games. The same couldn’t be said for the Pirates, who dropped to a season-worst nine games below .500 after a shaky five-run performance from Gerrit Cole.

Orioles 1, Blue Jays 0 (13 innings): Depending on the angle you choose, it takes a lot of skill and/or a lot of missed opportunities to shut out a team for 12 straight innings while also getting shut out. Luckily for the Orioles, they found the Blue Jays’ moment of weakness in the 13th inning, using Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop to engineer the first and only run of the four-hour, 27-minute marathon.

Schoop’s late-game heroics notwithstanding, it was Steve Pearce who took home the award for the crowd-pleasing play of the night:

Phillies 2, Marlins 1: When your team is 15 games behind the division lead, six games behind the nearest wild card spot and two below .500, you have to take your excitement where you can find it. For the Marlins, that excitement took the form of rookie left-hander Dillon Peters, who tied two impressive franchise records after striking out eight of 27 batters in seven scoreless innings during his Major League debut. The win still went to the Phillies, however, who utilized Andres Blanco‘s RBI groundout to grab the go-ahead run in the ninth.

Indians 3, Tigers 2 (Game 1): The Indians struck first during Friday’s doubleheader, vaulting over the Tigers with seven strong innings from Carlos Carrasco and a game-winning RBI single from Francisco Lindor in the ninth. The real kicker, however, came in Game 2…

Indians 10, Tigers 0 (Game 2): …when Cleveland’s offense joined forces for a 10-run spread in the first six innings, supplemented by six shutout frames from Mike Clevinger and a dominant run by the bullpen to preserve the shutout. Not only did it mark the Indians’ ninth straight win, tying a season-high streak, but it was their second doubleheader in three days following a two-game sweep of the Yankees on Wednesday.

Rangers 10, Angels 9: No lead is safe in the AL wild card race these days. The Angels discovered that the hard way on Friday, losing a one-run squeaker after Carlos Gomez scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch in the eighth inning. The Rangers still trail the Angels by 1.5 games in the wild card standings, but look poised for a comeback after taking three of their last five games this week.

Mariners 3, Athletics 2: While we’re on the topic of wild card contenders, the Mariners kept themselves in the running after a solid debut from Mike Leake, who joined the team in a swap with the Cardinals prior to Thursday’s deadline. Leake stayed just ahead of opposing starter Sean Manaea, scattering two runs, a walk and seven strikeouts over seven innings as the Mariners cooked up a one-run lead with Kyle Seager‘s go-ahead sacrifice double play in the third. The win positioned the Mariners a mere 3.5 games back of the second wild card spot, but it won’t be an easy road to get there: entering Saturday, Orioles, Angels, Rays, Rangers and Royals are still hovering within four games of playoff contention.

Rays 3, White Sox 1: Logan Morrison generated runs for both teams on Friday, collecting his 34th home run of the season with a 407-foot blast in the first inning, allowing Kevan Smith to score on his throwing error, and taking back the lead with an RBI single in the third. From the third inning on, the Rays’ Blake Snell had everything under control, combining with the bullpen for seven consecutive scoreless innings and returning the club to .500 with their 68th win of the year.

Brewers 1, Nationals 0: Ryan Braun‘s frustrations reached a boiling point during the fourth inning of the Brewers’ series opener, feeding into a confrontation with home plate ump Mark Ripperger that led to the sixth ejection of his career.

Manager Craig Counsell backed Braun’s choice to argue balls and strikes, telling reporters, “He’s fighting and trying to get the right pitches called on him. That’s all he’s doing — he’s fighting for it.” This time, at least, it didn’t seem to hamper the club’s efforts on the field, and Jimmy Nelson drove Milwaukee to their third straight win following his career-best 11-strikeout performance.

Diamondbacks 9, Rockies 5: How’s this for dominant: Taijuan Walker distributed so many strikeouts on Friday night that he didn’t need his defense until the third inning. He whiffed eight batters for the first eight outs of the game, finishing his outing with 10 K’s and only three hits in five innings. He helped power the D-backs at the plate, too, plating a run in the second inning to bring his season totals to a career-best 10 hits and four RBI.

Cardinals 11, Giants 6: The Giants’ skid ran to four straight losses after a rare implosion from Sam Dyson, who entered the ninth inning with a 5-5 tie and left it with a four-run deficit. Albert Suarez fared little better, relieving Dyson with one out and a runner on first and promptly giving up a two-run homer.

The Cardinals now sit four games back of a wild card spot, while the Giants, uh, are trending in the opposite direction.

Mets, Astros (postponed): Few things are better than weekend baseball, but this is one of them: