Drew Hutchison brings to mind a great line from Harry Neale when he was in charge of the hapless Vancouver Canucks more than 30 years ago: "Last season we couldn't win at home. This season we can't win on the road. My failure as a coach is I can't think of any place else to play."
Hutchison has half of that problem in that he cannot seem to pitch at home for the Toronto Blue Jays. He was lit up like an old-fashioned pinball machine by the St. Louis Cardinals at the Rogers Centre on Sunday as the Jays fell 5-0 in front of a sellout crowd of 45,726 to lose two out of three to the National Leaguers. It was their first series loss in almost a month, dropping their American League East-leading record to 38-26.
This was the second time in as many starts at home that Hutchison (4-4) surrendered five earned runs. The 23-year-old lasted just three innings, allowing the Cardinals to bat through the order in the second in allowing four runs on two singles, a sacrifice fly, a double and finally a two-run homer by Cards third baseman Matt Carpenter. The latter two blows came with two outs.
Hutchison gave up six hits, five earned runs and one walk in three innings. That brought his body of work at the Rogers Centre this season to a 1-3 record, staggering 8.92 earned-run average and 1.934 WHIP. On the road, without all those pesky Blue Jay fans studying his every move, Hutchinson is a much more palatable 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA and 0.956 WHIP.
Neither Hutchison nor Blue Jays manager John Gibbons had an explanation for the oddity.
"I don't know why that is. You'd have to ask him that," Gibbons said.
Hutchison was similarly baffled: "Not that I know of. Obviously, I feel the same way going out every time, home or on the road. I just haven't executed well here and I haven't put together big innings."
There was one excuse handy but neither man was willing to use it. For the second consecutive game, the Jays' big bats that clubbed them to the top of the AL East went quiet. Cards starter Jaime Garcia kept the likes of Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie off-balance all day, mixing a cut fastball with a change up and breaking balls. The aforementioned heart of the Jays batting order did not manage a hit off Garcia (2-0), who allowed just three hits in seven innings.
"It was like he was ahead of us the whole game," Gibbons said.
Hutchison, on the other hand, was behind from the start. The Cardinals hit the ball hard in the first two innings, with their No. 9 hitter, catcher Tony Cruz, pounding a double with two outs, which set up the two-run shot by Carpenter.
Gibbons thinks the fact Hutchison had Tommy John surgery in August, 2012, which kept him out of two-thirds of last season, might explain his inconsistency. He noted Hutchison "didn't have a whole lot of snap on his balls."
Hutchison's better outings have come with more than the standard four days of rest for starters. For example, his best start of the season, a win over the Detroit Tigers last week where he did not allow a run, came on seven days rest.
Hutchison, though, wasn't having it. The way he saw it, two bad pitches in the second inning Sunday were to blame.
"I just did a bad job controlling circumstance," he said. "I let the one run in, I had two outs, I fell behind, I gave up the double and I hung another pitch to give up the home run. Just bad execution on two pitches."
Well, there was the matter of 70 pitches he threw in just three innings. And three of those second-inning runs came because Hutchison couldn't get the bottom half of the Cards' batting order out.
"Some days he has that little extra snap, some days he doesn't," Gibbons said. "That's pitching. He's coming off Tommy John. He's healthy but in some ways he's still building it up."
NOTE: Reliever Sergio Santos (elbow) was in the clubhouse Sunday, passing through for a rehabilitation start with the Jays' Double-A farm team in New Hampshire. He would have stayed in Florida for a game with the Single-A Dunedin Blue Jays but the weather turned bad. It is still not known when he can return to the big club.
The following story has been corrected throughout for Toronto pitcher Drew Hutchison's surname