TORONTO - The Blue Jays' 3-1 win over the White Sox on Thursday was an illustration of how the club will earn victories for as long as the two Joses - Bautista and Reyes - remain out of the lineup.
There was a little bit of offence, flawless defence and a whole lot of solid pitching. With arguably the game's best leadoff hitter, Reyes, lost for at least two months and Bautista, arguably the game's best slugger, day-to-day with back spasms, the Blue Jays figure to rely more than usual on their starting pitching as the bats try to piece runs together.
Toronto's three runs came on only four hits, two by Rajai Davis including a two-out, RBI double in the fifth, and R.A. Dickey and three relievers made the limited production stand up.
"I think what's happening right now is that guys are pressing and they're not allowing themselves to get deeper in the count and when they do they're expanding the zone," hitting coach Chad Mottola said before Thursday's game. "That's not really coming from anything mechanical wrong; I think it's just them pressing and wanting to pick up the guys that are missing from the lineup."
Poll the clubhouse and you get differing responses from players asked whether hitters are pressing. Mottola believes that getting off to better starts would change the course not just of games but of individual at-bats.
"Go up three or four runs in the first inning and that's what we haven't been doing," said Mottola. "By the third inning, if our starter gives up a few runs, it kind of compounds itself so what's happening is we're not scoring first and all of a sudden you're seeing at-bats change."
Mottola's on to something. The Blue Jays scored a run in the first inning on Thursday, which gave them a 1-0 lead. Still, in 10 of 16 games this season the club has found itself losing at some point during the first two innings. It's a constant game of comeback, the type of game that wears down hitters' psyches.
On the flip side, with the offense sputtering, the pitchers rarely have sizeable leads with which to work. The Blue Jays have led by four or more runs in only two games this season, victories against Boston and in Kansas City.
"Good big league teams, one through nine, you've got to be productive and we've got the guys to do that," said manager John Gibbons. "Any time you're not scoring runs it doesn't give (pitchers) a lot of breathing room; they live and die with every pitch. But that's just baseball; that happens everywhere you go. I think when our offence gets clicking we'll score a lot of runs and it'll make a heck of a lot easier on those guys."
The Yankees come to Rogers Centre for a three-game series starting Friday, which for the Blue Jays will mark the beginning of 13-straight games, and 20 of the next 23, against American League East opponents. New York is off to a surprising 8-6 start, considering the number of injuries to key players. The Red Sox remain hot, winners of 11 of their first 15 games. A division can't be won in April but it can be lost if a team falls too far behind.
With that in mind, the Blue Jays move ahead without Reyes and Bautista knowing they can't replace either player.
"You have no choice," said veteran Mark DeRosa. "At the end of the day you have no choice. You can't ask guys to do more than they're capable of doing and I don't think Gibby or any coach expects that. I think it's a matter of, like he said, we've got to grind out better at-bats. We've got to find a way to get runners in scoring position with less than two outs for guys that are swinging the bats pretty good. You've seen the pitching's coming around … It's just a situation where nobody's going to feel sorry for us; everybody's got banged up players at the end of the day but it'll be nice when we get Jose (Bautista) back in the lineup."
SANTOS HAS MRI
Reliever Sergio Santos, placed on the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday when Brett Lawrie was activated, underwent an MRI in Dunedin and is suffering from a triceps strain. He will not throw for a week, at which point he'll be reevaluated.