TORONTO - Two batters into the game and it looked as if the Toronto Blue Jays' season had come to an end.
Nine pitches into Monday night’s 6-3 loss to the Washington Nationals was all it took for Jays starting pitcher Brandon Morrow to exit the game.
Morrow, the best pitcher in the Jays rotation, gave up a leadoff double to Steve Lombardozzi and then, after coming in off the plate on a 1-1 pitch to phenom Bryce Harper, he gave a sign for the training staff to come get him.
Now he’s out of the lineup with a left oblique strain and the prognosis doesn’t sound good.
“A 6-3 loss, but the bigger loss is obviously what took place with Brandon,” Jays manager John Farrell said. “We’ll get a better read on his condition after further tests are done tomorrow but I think at this point it’s safe to say that it’s probably substantial in terms of what he’s dealing with right now. Any kind of timeline, there’s no read on that yet until we get the further testing, but it’s unfortunate given how well he’s been pitching and what he means to this rotation, the staff and his team.”
If you think the idea of losing Morrow for any length of time wouldn’t torpedo the Jays' season, think again. The Jays simply have no one who is close to being able to replace him.
After the game, the Jays announced that they will call up lefty Evan Crawford and right-hander Aaron Laffey with reliever Chad Beck optioned to triple-A Las Vegas. On Tuesday, Morrow is expected to be placed on the disabled list.
With Thursday an off day, the Jays have the option of calling up a replacement starter for Sunday or could bump the others up and hold his replacement back until June 20.
It’s next to impossible, though, to think that individual can deliver like Morrow has.
This season, Morrow has blossomed into the type of top-of-the-rotation starter that the Jays envisioned when they traded for him in December of 2009.
Morrow, making his 12th start of the season, had won seven of his past nine starts to forge a 7-4 record on the season with a 3.01 earned-run average.
In the seven victories, Morrow allowed just three runs and 28 hits in 50 innings for a 0.54 ERA.
Three of those wins were complete-game shutouts.
Try and replace that!
Farrell isn’t one for wild exaggerations so his use of the word “substantial” to describe the injury is significant.
“He continued to tighten up after he came out of the game and he was in considerable pain,” Farrell said.
Although Morrow left after his third pitch to Harper, he said he felt a sharp pain following his first pitch to the Nationals' prized right fielder.
“It was on the first pitch to Harper. I felt like a stabbing in my side when I threw it,” Morrow said. “I just put it (pain) out of my mind for the second pitch, just continue on like nothing happened, hopefully it was nothing. Whatever.
“I threw that one and felt the same thing. Then of course I was thinking about it for the third pitch and wasn’t able to deliver the ball very well, so ... we’ll know more tomorrow.
Before facing Harper, everything was fine.
“I felt fine all the way through the week, through the warmups, the first eight pitches,” he said. “It was just that one pitch.”
Morrow doesn’t believe there is any link between what happened and any after-effects he felt from his start against Baltimore two starts back when he had to leave the game after being hit in the shin on a come-backer. No change in delivery or release point.
“I didn’t land strange or anything,” he said. “It’s hard to say. I don’t know what happened. I felt it and that’s it.”
With Morrow gone for who knows how long, Farrell said the Jays will still fight the good fight.
“Because of his absence, our expectation, our level of expectation of what we still work towards (as far as) accomplishing as a team does not change,” he said.
The reality, though, is that if Morrow is gone for any substantial length of time, the Jays' hopes this season have been dashed.
The Jays dropped the opener in their series against Washington with Morrow taking the loss.
Beck replaced Morrow and in 3 2/3 innings, the right-hander allowed three runs on three hits, including an RBI single to Harper in the Nationals' two-run first.
On the night, Harper went 3-for-4, drove in one run and scored twice. He was also thrown out by Jose Bautista in the fifth when he attempted to go first-to-third on a single to right. Harper was also heckled throughout the game by the fans.
Colby Rasmus continued with his power surge for the Jays, drilling a solo homer in the first.
The centre fielder has slammed six homers in his past 15 games.
Yan Gomes added a pinch-hit, two-run homer in the ninth, one of four hits for the Jays.