Kyle Drabek got a little hot; the Blue Jays offence has turned cold.
So, on the heels of a 3-1 loss Thursday the Blue Jays return for a homestand off a 5-5 road trip.
It could’ve been worse. This is a hurtin’ team. It’s also one that hangs in. Even Thursday in a game in which they were totally dominated by Tampa starter David Price, they still found a way to get the tying run to the plate in the last inning.
The starting pitching has been wobbly, the offence has a meagre eight runs in the past four games. Their best offensive player is in civvies and getting head rubs for neck spasms.
“We’re down a very important player (Jose Bautista). We’re dealing with challenges but we haven’t rolled over for anyone,” said manager John Farrell after Price beat them, running his personal record to 8-0 against Toronto. Toronto managed just five hits. Price never allowed a baserunner beyond second base until the ninth — even then, it was the result of a throwing error.
“We’re doing the best we can. Guys don’t leave anything on the field. We look for ways to manufacture runs when we can. He’d (Bautista) be missed in any lineup in the majors.”
Drabek battled emotions and the Rays through 5 2/3 innings. He kicked a puff of dirt, he pounded his glove, he swiped at the ground where a ball scooted past him. But, he kept it close.
“Controlling the emotions is an on-going process. All he can do is take a deep breath and get back to it,” said Farrell of his highly motivated, highly strung prospect. “But that’s part of youth; part of transitioning to the big leagues. I wouldn’t say there’s a growing frustration. Yeah, the last couple games haven’t turned out the way he had hoped but we’re dealing with a highly competitive person.”
He had baserunners every inning except the second but found escape — except for the fateful third which started with back- to-back doubles by Casey Kotchman and Sean Rodriguez. “First guy was a curve ball down and he just got enough of it; next batter was a mistake pitch,” said Drabek, now 2-2. “It was supposed to be outside and it was inside and he drove it down the line. Then it was little things...“
Johnny Damon’s cue-shot into no-mans land between the mound and third scored a second run and a sacrifice fly made it 3-0.
The way Price was dealing that would be plenty. Toronto’s only run came without a hit. John McDonald got to second on a ninth-inning error and scored on a groundout. Otherwise, Price was untouchable. “He was spot on with the command of his fastball,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon, “he’s a thoroughbred.”
Meantime, there should be concern about Toronto’s starting rotation. Despite the gutsy effort, Drabek fell short again of a quality start. The club ranks middle pack in pitching in the American League but much of the reason is a superb bullpen. Toronto starters are 8-12, and through 30 games have a combined 4.33 ERA — 12th in the AL.
Drabek, Jesse Litsch and Jo-Jo Reyes have yet to prove they can consistently pitch into the seventh inning. Brandon Morrow is looking stronger but is only three starts from rehab. That leaves Romero as the innings-eater — and, now he’s got soreness in his left oblique muscle.
“The offence is going to go through ups and downs but to win consistently it comes from the strength of your rotation. I think we’re starting to get a little more,” said Farrell. “(How many) innings we get out of the rotation will go a long way to answering questions.”
While Toronto’s bullpen ranks second in the league, one of those questions is, with a large workload, how long they can it be expected to continue to put up zeros?
Jose Bautista accompanied the club on its flight home Thursday after spending about “40 hours” the past two days getting treatment on neck spasms.
“It’s not 100% but it feels better,” he said. “I’m trying to get back as soon as I can. That’s why I didn’t come (to the park) the last two days. I wanted to stay with the doctor and ... hopefully I’ll be available this weekend or Monday” ... While Frank Francisco’s save Wednesday was a bit of an adventure, allowing two walks and a hit, Farrell still liked what he saw — from Francisco, not the plate umpire. “He threw strikes that weren’t called strikes,” Farrell said. “He was the most powerful he’s been all year. He did exceptional job on Ben Zobrist (for the final out) in a very tight situation; not just relying on power but all of a sudden he mixes a split and two curve balls in ... there’s such a calmness about him.”
LIND HITS 10 GAMES
Adam Lind extended his hitting streak to 10 games with an infield single in the seventh. He’s batting .423 with five homers ... Mike McCoy, toppled into the seats catching Sam Fuld’s pop foul to end the fourth, stranding a runner at second ... Tampa starting pitcher David Price was having fun with the bat the past couple days. He hammered several balls deep into the seats as Rays pitchers took batting practice. Tuesday he celebrated by cartwheeling over each base; Wednesday, he took an exaggerated slide into second base ... Fuld has gone from throw-in by the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade to Tampa Bay folk hero. His gung-ho style and a batting average above .300 to start the season endeared him to fans after he took over in left field following the retirement of Manny Ramirez. The bat has cooled; not the love. Recently 300 fans showed up at a local bar for a Fuld lookalike contest. “There are a lot of average Americans who can identify with this fellow,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon. “He’s hard not to like. He’s Everyman.”