There’s only so much the hitters can do.
The Toronto Blue Jays offence racked up at least 10 hits and five runs for the sixth consecutive game, but the Atlanta Braves capitalized on fundamental defensive mishaps in the first inning, then went to the long ball for a 7-6 win Tuesday at the Rogers Centre.
Brian McCann hit his second home run of the game leading off the 10th inning against right-hander Thad Weber. Catcher Evan Gattis and McCann, the regular catcher hitting in the DH slot, had gone back-to-back against Ramon Ortiz in the sixth inning for a 6-5 lead in front of a crowd of better than 45,000.
The Blue Jays (22-30) began their nine-game homestand 10 games behind in the American League East, and they finished in the same position pending first-place the Boston Red Sox-Philadelphia Phillies outcome Tuesday night, despite winning five of the games. Toronto plays 14 of its next 17 on the road, where its record to date is not good (8-14).
While the Jays hitting recovers from the doldrums of the season’s first five weeks, the starting pitching and defence continue to struggle.
Ortiz was in the game because starter Brandon Morrow exited after two innings with forearm stiffness, leaving with the score tied 4-4. Weber was in the game because closer Casey Janssen’s shoulder was sore after warming up in the bullpen for several games. Neither pitcher left with the club for Stage 2 of the four-game, home-and-home series against Atlanta – Weber being optioned to Triple-A Buffalo, and Ortiz designated for assignment.
“Could I have pitched today? Probably,” Janssen said, still dealing with the aftereffects of off-season shoulder surgery. “Do I think it would have benefited myself and the team? Probably not.”
With Josh Johnson returning from a triceps strain on June 4, Mark Buehrle regaining his traditional prowess and R.A. Dickey performing statistically as the rotation’s top starter, the X-factor is Morrow as the Jays try to climb back into the AL East race.
But he’s yet to find his 2012 form, when he became one of four AL pitchers to log at least 120 innings and finish with an earned-run average under 3.00.
Morrow’s velocity topped out at 91 miles an hour against the Braves, and on the season, he’s made it to the seventh inning in just three of 10 starts.
In the clubhouse afterward, the right-hander pointed to an area between his wrist and elbow as the culprit, saying it got sore in his previous outing on May 23, when he had a televised tantrum in the dugout after being removed by manager John Gibbons in the eighth inning of a 12-6 win over Baltimore.
“It wasn’t like pain, just a constant kind of soreness,” Morrow explained, adding he’s “going to hope” to make the next start, Sunday in San Diego.
Said Gibbons: “We didn’t think it was an issue, and the doctors don’t think it’s an issue. We took him out as a precaution.”
In the meantime, Esmil Rogers is being pulled from the bullpen to start Wednesday, his first since 2011.
The team is also expected to call-up two pitchers Wednesday.
The injury-battered Jays rotation ranks 13th of 15 AL teams in ERA, innings pitched and walks-plus-hits/nine innings – their mission complicated by a defence that time to time struggles to execute the simple fundamentals, as occurred in the first inning Tuesday.
Lead-off hitter Jordan Schafer lashed one off the right-field wall. It’s always dicey for runners to make second base on a hard-hit ball with Jose Bautista manning right, but Schafer made it on a close play as shortstop Maicer Izturis dropped the one-hop throw.
Next, Izturis got caught breaking to his left as Andrelton Simmons’s routine grounder bounced untouched through his position. With one out, Freddie Freeman singled to right and Bautista, gunning for Simmons at third base, overthrew Mark DeRosa. That might have been the end of the play if Morrow had backed up DeRosa (regular third baseman Brett Lawrie is out with an ankle sprain), instead he went behind home plate and the ball sailed into the stands for run No. 2.
Freeman moved to second on the play and scored with two out when first baseman Edwin Encarnacion dove to snare McCann’s grounder. Morrow broke late from the mound, still arriving in time to get McCann, but Encarnacion threw the ball into space to his left, leaving the Jays down 3-0 as Freeman came around.
The Jays put together two singles and three doubles in the bottom of the inning for a 4-3 lead, but Schafer hit his second homer of the season in the second to make it 4-4.
Bautista, who has raised his batting average from .244 on May 20 to .299 with a torrid run, hit a solo homer off starter Paul Maholm’s hanging breaking ball in the fourth.