Toronto manager John Gibbons was hoping – imploring even – that J.A. Happ’s good start against the Mets in New York on Wednesday would rub off on the rest of the Blue Jays rotation.
“Starters are the key to everything,” Gibbons said sagely before his team played the first of four home games against the Oakland Athletics on Thursday night.
Another seven-inning outing such as the one Happ orchestrated would have been ideal for the skipper. Even six innings probably would have sufficed.
But four-plus for Aaron Sanchez just didn’t quite cut it.
With Sanchez serving up another mystifying outing and an air-tight bullpen suddenly springing a leak, the Blue Jays lost 10-5 to Oakland under the open roof at Rogers Centre.
“It’s just a tough night,” Gibbons stated in curt fashion afterward when asked what issues he might have noted from Sanchez in the loss. “That’s all I got, don’t need to elaborate. Tough night.”
The Blue Jays slipped back to .500 (22-22) in the 3-hour 34-minute game, while the A’s (22-22) won for the third time in their past four games.
Leading 3-1 after three, Oakland piled on four more on Sanchez in the fifth to make the score 7-1.
“When you leave balls up they put good swings on it,” Sanchez said sullenly. “I felt…anytime I left the ball up in the zone it was smacked.”
After Sanchez walked Jed Lowrie leading off the fifth Gibbons had seen enough and exited the dugout with his right arm in the air, signalling the bullpen to send in Seunghwan Oh.
Oh has been decent this season, but not in this case, issuing a single to Khris Davis, who had four hits, including a home run back in the third inning.
Oh then served a three-run home run ball to Matt Olson before allowing a run-scoring single to Dustin Fowler.
The struggles of the Toronto starters, and stinginess of its relievers, has been a season-long theme for the Blue Jays.
The starting rotation were hauling around a 5.52 earned-run average into Thursday’s game, the second worst in the majors.
Contrast that to the already overtaxed bullpen, which has bailed out the starters all season. Toronto relievers were pitching to a 3.08 ERA heading into the first game against the Athletics, the fifth best overall mark in baseball.
Gibbons said before the game he has been pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness of his relievers, who have rolled along despite the absence of closer Roberto Osuna. Osuna has been on administrative leave while Major League Baseball contemplates its next move after he was charged with assault by Metro Toronto Police last week.
“I thought it would be a good bullpen [coming out of spring training],” Gibbons said. “I didn’t think they’d pitch as well as they are to this point to be honest with you.”
After Happ’s sturdy seven innings on Wednesday against the Mets, during which he allowed no runs and just two hits with 10 strikeouts in a 12-1 romp, Gibbons was hoping it would mark a turnabout for the starters.
“That’s what we’re looking for,” Gibbons said. “In most seasons you get a few streaks of that. It’s important to build on something.”
But Sanchez (2-4) could not keep the ball rolling, getting roughed up for four runs off five hits over four-plus innings while walking four and striking out eight.
Toronto’s starting lineup did not include Teoscar Hernandez, who is hitting .272 and with seven home runs on the season, out with a sore back.
It was an odd start for Sanchez, who had struck out six batters through the first three innings where his pitch count had already soared to 70.
And Oakland held a 3-1 lead.
Toronto jumped in front first after Kevin Pillar belted his major-league-leading 19th double to centre leading off the second. Pillar tagged and went to third on a flyout by Russell Martin and then scored when Kendry’s Morales hit into a fielder’s choice.
But the Athletics stormed back with three in the third, a rally highlighted by a two-run home run shot by Davis, his 13th of the season.
Handed a two-run lead, Oakland starter Andrew Triggs was facing Justin Smoak in the bottom of the frame when he started to experience nerve discomfort in his right forearm and had to leave. He was replaced by Santiago Casilla.
After Oakland surged in front 7-1, Toronto rallied for three of its own in the bottom of the fifth to cut the Oakland lead to 7-4 and tease the home fans that there might be a comeback.
But in the next inning with John Axford hit Davis with a pitch and then was taken deep by Matt Chapman for a two-run homer that moved the A’s back in front by five.