In search of water in the desert, manager John Gibbons adjusted the batting order on Tuesday against the Orioles by placing Adam Lind second and Melky Cabrera fifth, behind Edwin Encarnacion.
Lind had a hit and a walk, scoring when Encarnacion belted a three-run homer in the sixth inning, his first extra-base hit in nine games. Cabrera followed immediately with a triple, his third-extra base hit of the season and second in 17 games, but the Jays couldn't push across another run, losing 4-3 on a clear, cool evening at Camden Yards.
"We didn't win with it, but it had a good feel to it," said a frustrated Gibbons.
Perhaps Gibbons will next try Lind in the top spot of the order. Since leadoff hitter Jose Reyes went down with an ankle sprain, three players have tried to fill the role as the offence scored three runs or fewer in eight of those 11 games, going 4-7 in the stretch.
They say teams can't win a pennant in April but they can lose one, and the math is starting to become imposing, as the Blue Jays finish the series in Baltimore on Wednesday afternoon before heading to New York for a four-game set with the Yankees. Assuming at least 90 victories will be required to capture the AL East, the Blue Jays (8-13) will need to go 82-59 the rest of the way.
"We've got to fix what is going on here," said losing pitcher R.A. Dickey (2-3), who gave up all four runs in the second inning and, bothered again by a muscle strain in his upper back, left after six innings and 118 pitches, allowing six hits and five walks.
Whatever the positive impact of the lineup adjustment, it was mitigated by a running stream of mental and physical miscues, in spite of a pregame players meeting.
After being struck out by starter Miguel Gonzalez (2-1) on a high fastball to end the top of the second, third baseman Brett Lawrie triggered a four-run Orioles rally in the bottom of the inning by making a throwing error on a chopper by Adam Jones. Then Dickey lost command of the knuckleball temporarily as the Orioles drew two walks in the inning, getting their runs on a Matt Wieters single, a Nolan Reimold sacrifice fly, and a two-out, two-run single by Manny Machado that ticked off the glove of diving shortstop Munenori Kawasaki.
"I'm giving everything I can possibly give but it's like going into a battle with a three-shooter instead of a six-shooter," Dickey said.
Opponents have scored first 15 times in 21 games, and Toronto's record in those games is 3-12.
In the third inning, Colby Rasmus hit a leadoff double and with one out, Dickey's personal catcher Henry Blanco, blooped a single into short right-centre field. But Rasmus only made third base after hesitating, and Kawasaki, in the leadoff slot, promptly grounded into a double play to end the inning.
Lind, in the 2-hole for the first time in six seasons ("weird to be on deck when the game started"), started the fourth with a single and the next hitter, Jose Bautista, grounded into a double play. Bautista came up again in the eighth after pinch hitter Rajai Davis sacrificed the potential tying run to second, and hit a first-pitch chopper for an infield out.
In that same inning, after Encarnacion drew a two-out walk, Cabrera took a called strike three on a full count with two out, and the tying run at third base.
Cabrera received a two-year deal from the Blue Jays after testing positive for a performance enhancing substance and being left off the postseason roster by the San Francisco Giants. His batting average of .265, which leads Toronto's every-day players, is 81 points lower than his .346 for the Giants, and he has produced three extra-base hits in 83 at-bats, a double and two triples. His slugging percentage is just .325, compared to .516 for the Giants.
Cabrera's shot off the centre field wall in the sixth got away from the two Baltimore outfielders and rolled along the warning track into right field. He was thinking inside-park home run as he rounded third base but coach Luis Rivera threw both arms skyward to hold him, probably wisely.
Notes: With one ex-Jay, Shaun Marcum, returning from the disabled list to pitch Saturday, the Mets placed another ex-Jay, Aaron Laffey, on waivers and the Jays claimed the lefty. He had a 7.20 ERA for the Mets in four appearances, after making 16 starts (4-6, 4.56 ERA) in 22 games for Toronto last year. Ramon Ortiz was designated for assignment. ... Rasmus briefly became the leading hitter on the Blue Jays with a .263 average before Carbrera's triple.