Now that one very enjoyable streak has come to its natural conclusion, the Toronto Blue Jays are hoping to avoid a decidedly nastier one.
After reeling off nine consecutive victories that allowed them to stake a claim to first place in the American League East, the Blue Jays have been brought back to reality somewhat after two consecutive losses.
Both have come against the Kansas City Royals, the latest setback on Friday night where the Royals (26-28) stifled Toronto (32-24) and its beat-up bullpen 6-1.
Toronto starter J.A. Happ was slapped around in this one to the tune of six K.C. runs off nine hits (including two home runs) over 7.2 innings to see his record dip to 4-2.
Toronto manager John Gibbons, out of deference to a worn bullpen, probably left Happ in the game a little longer than necessary.
Earlier in the day, the Blue Jays announced they had selected the contract of reliever Bobby Korecky from their Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo with pitcher Rob Rasmussen going the other way.
Korecky, 34, has been lights out in Buffalo in a closer’s role, posting a 3-1 record with a 0.29 earned-run average and five saves.
The right-hander was pressed into service right away, coming into Friday’s game in the eighth inning in relief of Happ. And it is not the only pitching move the Blue Jays will be making.
Prospect Marcus Stroman was scratched from his scheduled start Friday night for the Bisons, and not for any health reasons.
The young right-hander told Buffalo reporters that “there’s a chance I might be taking a car service out of here soon to go up there [Toronto]” but he did not know in what capacity.
After the game, the Blue Jays announced that they have indeed called up Stroman and that he will get the start on Saturday. Korecky will be sent back down to Buffalo.
Stroman will get the start for the Blue Jays in place of Drew Hutchison.
This will be Stroman’s major-league starting debut after making appearances in five games earlier this month, all in relief.
In those outings Stroman allowed 10 runs off 13 hits, although he did pick up a win along the way.
Hutchison, who is coming off Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in his right elbow, laboured in his last outing on Monday when he surrendered five runs off seven hits through five innings against the Tampa Bay Rays.
“We want to get Stroman up here and give him a look,” Gibbons said after the game. “Over overall thinking was we’ll back Hutch off a couple days.”
The Blue Jays will start Mark Buehrle on Sunday and, following a day off on Monday, send Hutchison to the mound on Tuesday in Detroit against the Tigers.
“After his last start I thought he [Hutchison] looked a little tired so it’s a perfect time to give him a couple extra days,” Gibbons said.
So, for the time being at least, the Blue Jays will be running with a six-man rotation when you include Liam Hendriks.
Things looked promising early on Friday for the Jays after Jose Reyes, looking to make amends for a sloppy throwing error in Thursday’s series opener that ultimately cost the Blue Jays the win, opened up with a leadoff triple in the first inning off K.C. starter Jason Vargas.
But Reyes could not budge after that, a Melky Cabrera fly ball to right field not deep enough for him to want to challenge the arm of Nori Aoki.
Jose Bautista would draw a walk but back-to-back pop outs by Edwin Encarnacion and then Brett Lawrie squandered the scoring opportunity.
In Thursday’s first game against K.C., an 8-6 Royals win in 10 innings that snapped Toronto’s win streak, Encarnacion tallied two home runs to continue a marvellous month of May.
The Toronto first baseman has now stroked 16 homers in May, a club record for any month and the most by any player in the month of May since Barry Bonds tallied a Major League record 17 in 2001.
Through the first 28 games in May, Encarnacion is averaging a home run every 6.9 at-bats, an astonishingly productive rate.
So why do pitchers continue to pitch to this guy?
Toronto pitching coach Kevin Seitzer believes it might be an ego driven thing more than anything else.
“It’s a little surprising that he gets as many pitches to hit as he does,” Seitzer said before the game. “I kind of think the pitchers who are going up against him want to be the ones that cool him off, so they just keep going after him.”
The Royals were pretty careful on Friday with Encarnacion, who went 0-for-2 with three walks.
The Royals first got to Happ in the second inning when Lorenzo Cain, who would drive in three runs in the game, singled to right field to score Billy Butler from third. Cain added a two-run home run in the eighth.
K.C. piled on two more runs in the fourth on the strength of a two-run home run shot off the bat of Alex Gordon.
Toronto got one back in the fifth on Bautista’s 14th home run of the year but Happ gave it right back the next inning and Toronto never really got anything going after that.