Thumped by Yanks, frustrated Blue Jays still waiting to fire on all cylinders
TORONTO - It's one step forward, two steps back for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Manager John Gibbons got a fence-finding Jose Bautista back in his lineup Friday night, only to see starter Brandon Morrow (0-2) wobble early on and his defence cough up needless runs in a 9-4 loss to the New York Yankees.
Former Jays Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay homered to back up a strong pitching performance by veteran Yankee left-hander Andy Pettitte.
"They took it to us with the bats and then Pettitte was really good," Gibbons said in a sublimely pithy assessment of the night.
The Yankees (9-7) pounded out three homers, a triple and six doubles in their 13-hit attack.
"We're just kind of sputtering," Gibbons said of his 7-10 team. "We really haven't been able to get anything going. We've had some well-pitched outings and haven't got a whole lot of offence with them. And then tonight, you fall behind big and the (opposing pitcher) shuts you down pretty good.
"Nothing's come together yet. I think it will, it's just a matter of time. But you know what? It's time to start playing some better baseball, there's no question about it. Because we've got a good team."
The Jays are now in a crucial part of their schedule. Friday marked the start of a stretch that sees the team play 30 of its next 35 games — starting with 10 straight — against AL East opposition.
There is much to fix.
The Jays came into the game hitting .229, good for 25th in the majors, although the team ranked ninth in homers with 18.
On the mound, Toronto's much-vaunted pitching staff was 27th with a 4.77 earned-run average.
The Jays, who had seven hits on the night, have now scored just 19 runs in the seven games — going 3-4 — since shortstop Jose Reyes went down with an ankle injury in Kansas City.
But Gibbons said the hitting woes can't be attributed to the loss of the all-star shortstop.
"We feel like we can do some damage top to bottom, so we can't lay it all on that," he said.
"One man doesn't make a team. He sure helps, that's for sure," he added. "But you need everybody."
Of concern is the fact that the two runs yielded in the first inning marked the 12th time the opposition has scored first against Toronto, which is 3-9 in those games.
Travis Hafner also homered for the Yankees, winners of eight of their last 10, before 40,028 at the Rogers Centre. It was his fifth of the season.
New York has homered in 13 of its first 15 games and have recorded 25 homers this season. Wells and Overbay, who have accounted for six of those, were greeted with boos but were silenced later by their bats.
The key inning was the third, with Toronto trailing 2-1. Morrow had been living dangerously, with three doubles and several deep fly balls in the first two innings.
Hafner made him pay in the third with a solo home run that swerved over the left-field fence for a 3-1 lead. A Wells single and an Ichiro Suzuki double followed and things turned ugly when both scored on what should have been Eduardo Nunez's routine fly ball to centre field.
Colby Rasmus made the catch but his throw to home plate to keep the two Yankees where they were on base was off line and the ball ricocheted off catcher J.P. Arencibia, allowing Wells and Suzuki to score for a 5-1 lead. Rasmus was charged with an error that could have been shared with his catcher.
Asked about the play, Gibbons said Arencibia should probably have backed up rather than move in in a bid to corral a short hop on Rasmus's throw.
"I could see what he was doing but I think he got caught inbetween," said Gibbons.
Bautista, returning to the lineup after four games out with a sore back, and Arencibia homered for the Jays. Bautista, who went 1-for-3 with a walk, is expected to continue at designated hitter through the weekend before returning to right field for the ensuing series in Baltimore.
After giving up one run in the first, Pettitte found his rhythm. The 40-year-old retired eight in a row starting in the second inning, a stretch that included five strikeouts. He exited after seven and a third innings, having given up three runs on six hits with five strikouts and one walk.
He threw 90 pitches, 61 for strikes, in a polished performance.
Pettitte's streak of consecutive starts without a complete game stretched to 143, not that anyone in the visitors' dugout cared.
It was the 420th game as a Yankee for Pettitte (3-0), tying him with Sparky Lyle in sixth place on New York's all-time games pitched list. The leftie has made 45 career appearances (44 starts) against Toronto.
The Jays were down 2-0 off the bat as Morrow gave up two doubles and hit Kevin Youklis.
Morrow was facing a 5-1 deficit after three innings before he pulled it together. But he was removed with two outs left in the sixth when the Yankees got to him again.
The right-hander gave up two homers and five doubles in his nine-hit, seven-run outing, striking out four and walking one. Morrow threw 89 pitches including 54 strikes.
"I was just falling behind guys early in the counts in the first few innings," said Morrow. "I started to find a better rhythm and locate my fastball better."
Brett Cecil gave up two runs, his first of the season, in taking over for Morrow in the sixth. Steve Delabar and Darren Oliver closed out for the Jays.
Shawn Kelley followed Pettitte, giving up a solo shot to Arencibia (his team-leading sixth) with two out in the ninth. It was Arencibia's 48th career homer and he is now just three short of tying Pat Borders for third most by a Toronto catcher.
There was some good news for Toronto when Brett Lawrie, from Langley, B.C., got his first hit of the season in the second inning, ending a 0-for-10 run.