John Gibbons described the Blue Jays’ state of play with all the tact he could muster.
His pitching staff had just issued 11 walks in a 6-4 loss to the Yankees. One run against them had scored on a wild pitch, another on a passed ball. With runners in scoring position against Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning, Munenori Kawasaki and Colby Rasmus struck out. Shoddy infield play, a theme repeated on a near-daily basis this season, had contributed to another run.
Left-hander Aaron Laffey, acquired off waivers earlier in the week and deployed on an emergency basis to replace the scratched starting pitcher Josh Johnson (triceps strain), had to be pulled after 2-2/3 innings after walking five Yankees. After the game, he was designated for assignment.
“We’re playing good enough to lose,” Gibbons said. “We’re not playing good enough to win.”
With a record of 9-15, they reside in last place in the American League East. They’ve lost eight of the last 11 overall, and six of the last seven on the road, facing a matchup against Yankees ace CC Sabathia on Saturday afternoon. To reach 90 wins, likely the minimum required to qualify for the playoffs, they’ll need to go 81-57 the rest of the way.
The infield’s been out of sorts since the start of the season, when Brett Lawrie missed 14 games nursing an abdominal strain back to health in Florida. Maicer Izturis moved from second to third as his replacement, got over-matched at the position and now struggles at second, his natural position.
Friday night marked two weeks since shortstop Jose Reyes sprained his ankle. He’s out until July, the club says. Asked before the game whether the Jays miss Reyes or the Yankees miss Jeter more, Gibbons said only that Reyes was the player they could least afford to lose.
There was no Plan B.
When Reyes went down on April 14, the Jays didn’t want to overpay in a trade, Gibbons said recently, so Munenori Kawasaki got promoted. Once an all-Japan player, at age 31 he’s lacking the quickness, range and arm strength to play regularly.
The defence is continually hurting Mark Buehrle and other starting pitchers who entice contact and need solid fielding behind them to succeed.
After Encarnacion homered in the first for a 1-0 lead, in the second inning Vernon Wells hit a grounder that Kawasaki couldn’t. With two on base following a walk, Ichiro Suzuki characteristically sliced a grounder at third baseman Brett Lawrie who attempted a backhand but had the ball squirt from his glove for a hit, loading the bases.
Eduardo Nunez then hit a tailor-made double play grounder to Izturiz, at second. Moving toward the bag, he failed to field the ball cleanly with his backhand. Having to pick the ball up before throwing, the covering Kawasaki wasn’t able to turn the double play.
Even when they did turn a double play, off a Lyle Overbay broken bat grounder, Lawrie’s initial throw caused Izturis to reach high at second and the relay forced Encarnacion to dig the ball out of the dirt.
In the Yankees fourth, the Jays outfield misplayed an Overbay double into a run-scoring triple, and Overbay scored from third on a wild pitch.
Down 4-3 in the Yankees seventh and a pitch away from escaping a jam, a passed ball charged to catcher J.P. Arencebia permitted the fifth run to score.
The Jays got a pair of homers by Edwin Encarnacion and a solo blast from Jose Bautista and otherwise mustered little offence. Rivera had made his 1,000th appearance as a Yankee on Thursday, and on Friday he got into trouble in the ninth, going for his eighth save. But with two aboard, Kawasaki struck out and with the bases loaded, and Colby Rasmus went down swinging.
The Yankees (13-9) lost their starting catcher, Francisco Cervelli, to a fractured hand when the first batter of the game, Rajai Davis, tipped a pitch.
Their starting pitcher, Ivan Nova, left with an elbow injury in the third inning after hitting Kawasaki and giving up a single to Davis.
The Jays couldn’t capitalize.
They got two solo homers from Edwin Encarnacion and a late solo homer from a struggling Jose Bautista (.185) but otherwise mustered little offence until the ninth inning threat.
David Phelps came in cold from the bullpen to replace Nova and wound up fanning nine Jays in four innings, allowing only two hits for the win.
Rasmus, the first batter faced by Phelps, got the first of the two hits. Rasmus was promoted to No. 2 in the batting order Friday in hopes he’ll see fewer breaking balls. Also, while Gibbons wouldn’t say this, there is little alternative.
“You never want to do a whole lot of tinkering with the lineup but we figure, put him up top with Bautista and Encarnacion behind him, open up some holes, maybe get some fastballs,” Gibbons said. “He did ok there last year. I asked him what he thought and he said, I can’t believe you waited so long.”
After Rasmus’s RBI single, the Jays had two runners aboard, a run across, none out, the starter gone and an unprepared reliever on the mound with their 3-4 batters coming to the plate – a chance for the offence to exploit the situation. Bautista struck out. Encarnacion, who’s homered in four straight games, also struck out as Davis was thrown out trying to steal third by backup catcher Chris Stewart.
Recently promoted Brad Lincoln, the first of four pitchers in relief of Laffey, got the loss for allowing two runs in one inning Aaron Loup pitched two scoreless innings, but Steve Delabar and Darren Oliver each gave up a run.