Steady Eddie leads Blue Jays over Indians

Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion hits a RBI single in the sixth inning against the...

Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion hits a RBI single in the sixth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field on Apr 15, 2014 in Minneapolis, MN, USA. Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports)

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:43 PM ET

CLEVELAND — The Blue Jays will go absolutely nowhere if Edwin Encarnacion doesn’t hit.

Steady Eddie has been anything but this season and if you’re wondering what’s wrong with the Jays offence, look no further than Encarnacion.

Jose Reyes has not been with the team and that has hurt and the bottom of the order has been a black hole of unproductive outs.

It’s unfair to place the burden of responsibility on one player but Encarnacion has big shoulders and has produced big numbers in the past. So he has already carved out his own expectations and this season, to date, has not met them.

Friday night in the Blue Jays 3-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians, Encarnacion came through in the seventh with a bases-loaded RBI single to supply the game-winning hit.

It was long overdue, this game and through the season.

In his first three plate appearances Friday, Encarnacion went 0-for-3 while stranding five runners, including striking out with two out and the bases loaded in the third.

Up with the bags full a second time in the seventh, Encarnacion ripped a 3-2 pitch from Cody Allen into centre field to push the Jays in front for good. The Jays have not seen much of that this season.

It was just Encarnacion’s fifth RBI of the season and the gifted slugger is still looking for his first home run.

If the Jays are going to go anywhere this season, they will need top efforts from all sources, none more important than the production that Encarnacion can bring.

The bullpen, which fell apart in much embarrassing fashion Thursday night, hung tough against the Tribe this game, perhaps inspired by the effort of starter Drew Hutchison.

Sergio Santos — no wild pitches this night but a lot of drama — collected the save.

The big lament from manager John Gibbons following their three-game trip to Minneapolis was not the dreadful eighth inning Thursday night but the poor starting pitching in all three games.

In that series, Brandon Morrow lasted 3.2 innings, R.A. Dickey 4.1 and Dustin McGowan four innings plus three batters.

It was a repeat of the failures the rotation suffered so often in 2013.

Enter Drew Hutchison.

The 23-year-old right-hander supplied some much needed tonic as he cruised through five shutout innings, where he had racked up nine strikeouts to tie his career high.

But in the sixth, something happened and it wasn’t in Hutchison’s favour.

A Baltimore-chop single by Jason Kipnis and following home run by Carlos Santana on a 3-2 pitch — to snap an 0-for-11 skid — shot the Indians in front 2-1.

The Jays opened the scoring in the fourth, with one of the key plays of the inning being a wild pitch by Justin Masterson. What’s that saying about what goes around comes around?

With one out, Colby Rasmus hit a ball high off the wall in left centre for a double and, with Brett Lawrie at the plate, advanced to third on a wild pitch.

Lawrie followed with a nubber up the third base line that Rasmus alertly scored on. Lawrie hustled up the line and when Santana couldn’t come up with the ball, was credited with an infield single and RBI.

VELOCITY DROP

Thursday’s nightmare started to slip away from the Jays in the fifth when starter Dustin McGowan faced three batters, didn’t retire any of them and gave up a two-run double to his last hitter.

More disturbing was the fact that McGowan, who has a lengthy history of shoulder injuries, had his velocity drop in the inning to 87, 88 from the 91-93 he had posted over the first three innings.

“Today was a key and I wanted to see how he felt today and he said he felt great, pitching in the cold, getting taxed a little bit, a couple of long innings,” Gibbons said.

What about the drop in velocity?

“That got our attention, definitely, but today he says he feels great,” Gibbons said.

McGowan said there’s nothing to worry about as far as he’s concerned.

“I felt fine but that weather just didn’t help,” McGowan said Friday. “I stiffened up a little bit (on the bench) but nothing hurt or anything like that. I was just sitting for so long I couldn’t get loose. But I felt fine. I just made bad pitches, bad execution.”

GOINS NOT GONE

INF Ryan Goins made the team as their second baseman on the strength of his defence, not his bat. The theme regarding Goins was that any offence he contributed would be gravy and they believed he would be able to make some kind of contribution.

Heading into Friday night’s game, Goins’ contribution has been zero. At the plate he was batting .125 (5-for-39) with one run scored, one extra-base hit and zero RBIs.

At what point does he have to start producing something to keep his job?

“We need him starting to get some hits,” Gibbons said. “When Reyes coms back, right now we’ve been scrambling to get production out of either one of those spots (short and second). When Reyes comes back, it takes away one of those.

“But he swung the bat a heck of a lot better in Minnesota (0-for-8). He hits balls on the money. I think he’s swinging better than his numbers indicate.”

Against the Tribe, Goins was 1-for-3.

He hasn’t reached the end of his rope.


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