Let’s see what Tuesday night has in store for the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees, but know this: after breaking an 10-game losing streak against the Yankees on Monday, there had to be a certain sweetness in hearing the other team’s manager wonder openly about his starting pitcher; in hearing the other team’s right fielder, Ichiro Suzuki, talk about a play that wasn’t made that was so embarrassing, “I would have gone straight home if I could.”
Phil Hughes’s lack of performance has left his spot in the Yankees rotation hanging in the balance as Joe Girardi’s team tries to carry its season-long balancing act into September. He was not up to it in Monday’s 5-2 loss to the Blue Jays, a night when for once this season it seemed as if the home team had an actual home-field advantage.
Derek Jeter returned to the Yankees lineup on artificial turf because this is what you do when you’re Jeter: you play when healthy regardless of the havoc it will wreak on your legs. Jeter acknowledged Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey after the game. He also gently reminded the scrum around his locker that the Blue Jays were, after all, a team that many people picked to win the American League East Division.
Oh yeah. That.
There is an endless list of indicators that reveal just how pear-shaped the 2013 season has been for the Blue Jays. For those of us who started looking forward to 2014 in June, some of them are worrisome. The Blue Jays are .500 at home (32-32) going into J.A. Happ’s start Tuesday against Andy Pettitte, but Dickey’s home/road splits ought to be a topic of conversation despite Monday’s strong effort. Dickey’s 10-12 record is split evenly home and away but he has allowed 20 of his 29 home runs at the Roger Centre, has an earned run average of 5.48 at home that is two earned runs per game higher than his road number and has a hone WHIP of 1.342 that is significantly worse than his lousy 1.213 road WHIP. On the plus side? His strikeouts per nine innings are better at home than away (8.1 compared to 6.0.)
Perhaps it’s an anomaly. Perhaps it’s related to his well-documented early-season back issues. But with Dickey’s contract extension kicking in next year (two years, $12-million per season with a third option year) the fact that neither Dickey or the Blue Jays appear to have spent much time wondering about the effects of a dome or steaming hot artificial turf in the summer on Dickey’s knuckler is puzzling. It’s not like Dickey doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about or analyzing his knuckler – the “capricious animal,” in his words. Dickey’s knuckleball is more varied than previous incarnations. When it’s on, it’s harder than most and in the past Dickey has been able to get away with it higher in the strike zone.
If Dickey did indeed figure something out on Monday, when he allowed one earned run 6 1/3 innings with six strikeouts and three walks, his next start on the weekend against the Kansas City Royals will bear even deeper analysis. Brett Lawrie looks like a player once again; Edwin Encarnacion is still swinging with authority despite being a man on an island; Jose Reyes is healthy and giving it his all and – while he has yet to hit a triple this season after averaging 14 per season in his career – seems comfortable on the turf at home. There are glimmers here, folks. If Dickey can join that group, if Monday’s start really is a sign of things to come, it’s one less thing general manager Alex Anthopoulos needs to worry about in the off-season. True, the list is still about two dozen items long, but if Dickey’s Monday start is a start, Anthopoulos and Blue Jays fans will take it.