Griffin: Blue Jays continue to search for offence in loss to A's
OAKLAND-A potential Blue Jays' death spiral, in the absence of star hitters Jose Bautista, J.P. Arencibia and Adam Lind, may be officially underway, judging by a listless 4-1 loss to the A's on Thursday night in front of a sparse crowd of 10,823 at the Coliseum.
In the space of four days, three time-zones, Jays bats have gone silent, all at once. In fact, on the current trip, the most offensive thing about the Jays is that, after the loss to the A's, making them 0-4 on the west coast, they dropped three below .500 for the first time since being 44-47 on July 9, 2011. The Jays have scored a combined eight runs in five losses.
“We have to find ways to manufacture,” manager John Farrell said. “In so many innings we've started with an out, so that really limits the ability to sacrifice, to hit-and-run, to move a guy over into scoring position. We were able to scratch a run across in the ninth.”
Over the course of this season-high losing streak, the Jays have 33 hits in 160 at-bats (.206). Brett Lawrie is 3-for-20, Kelly Johnson is 3-for-19, David Cooper is 2-for-11, Jeff Mathis is 1-for-12 and Edwin Encarnacion is 3-for-19. Lawrie, when he reaches base regularly, has been a catalyst for the offence, bringing energy that seems to be contagious. He needs to get back to being an ignitor.
“I try to,” Lawrie said. “Especially if you can lead off an inning with a hit. Obviouslyt it gets the guys excited in the dugout and you want to get a good flow to things. When it doesn't happen, I just have to suck it up and it is what it is.”
Lawrie was asked what he needed to do to get out of any kind of an offensive funk that he may find himself in, as his Jays prepare to face the A's again on Friday trying to snap the five-game skid.
“I don't think I'm in anything to be quite honest with you,” Lawrie said. “Just because I haven't been getting hits. I mean it's tough to get hits. It's not easy. I'll just keep doing what I'm doing. I'm not going to change. There's nothing to change, just because I'm not getting hits doesn't mean it's necessary to change anything.”
The fact is that rediscovered offence in a struggling lineup can be contagious. If two or three players start to drive the ball and reach base, the energy often reverberates through the order.
“I think so,” Lawrie said of the idea of viral offence. “It just depends. You can't win every game. You just have to go out there and continue what you're doing. Put the bat on the ball. Square it up. It is what it is. We're trying to score runs, just put that bat on the ball, try and get the next guy up and string some stuff together.”
Encarnacion has been playing with soreness in his left heel, that may or may not be affecting his plate performance. Farrell doesn't think that it's an issue.
“I see the same aggressive swings,” Farrell said. “There are times when he'll get down the line after making contact in the same fashion. There's times where he comes back off the field after recording an out and you notice a little bit of a change in his gait. He feels it, there's no question. But we're using the DH spot to hopefully get ahead of it a little bit.”
Farrell is hoping that Encaracion can return to play the field on Tuesday in Tampa, even though it will be on one of two artificial surfaces in baseball. The Jays needs his defence at first base.
“That's not to slight anyone else, that's to more readily recognize that Edwin has become a very good defender at first base,” Farrell said. “There's good range, a high level of comfort with him over there. Just talking to him when he was getting some treatement done today, we think that by Tuesday when we get to Tampa he should be able to get back on the field defensively.”
Jays' righthander Henderson Alvarez entered the game on a modest two-game win streak, beating the Red Sox in Boston and the Tigers in his last start at the Rogers Centre. In fact, the 22-year-old Venezuelan was 4-1 in his last five decisions, dating back to June 25. The Jays had tried to move him over to the first-base side of the pitching rubber and he had struggled until moving back.
“We've pointed to the shifts on the rubber as a way to adjust against lefthanded hitters in the past,” Farrell said. “He has felt more comfortable as he has moved back to the third base side of the rubber with the action to all his pitches. That's where he feels more comfortable and that's the way the games have unfolded. He's attacked the strike zone and pitched with a lot of confidence.”
However on this night, Alvarez fought his command, working with backup catcher Yan Gomes for the second straight game. In the third, he allowed an RBI single to Seth Smith and a two-run blast to Josh Reddick. It was Reddick's third home run in four games vs. the Jays this season.
In the sixth, Alvarez pitched his way around a three-base error by left fielder Rajai Davis. With one out, he walked Reddick intentionally and Yoenis Cespedes unintentionally and then got Brandon Moss to ground into a double play. He continues to improve as he kept the Jays in the game.
“The thing that I see is his in-game awareness,” Farrell said of his improvement. “Yan caught him the last time out and Henderson had a lot more involvement in the game-calling. While you can have some discussion with him in-between innings as to why his thoughts were that way, but he took more ownership of it and I think he pitched with a lot more confidence because of that.”
Alvarez walked Brandon Inge leading off the sixth and was replaced by newly acquired righthander Steve Delabar. Alvarez walked a career high five batters in the game.
The Jays have added six new relievers since July 3, joining the only two holdovers Darren Oliver and Casey Janssen. The new bullpen is defining its own roles via performance.
One pitcher that may not be in the bullpen much longer is lefthander J.A. Happ. Obtained from the Astros, he has been assigned to long relief while awaiting an opportunity to join the rotation. On Wednesday, Farrell had offered the suggestion tat after the Jays get past the open date on Monday that he may go once through the rotation with six men, including Happ. He has since amended that.
“It's a thought as a way to include J.A.,” Farrell said prior to Thursday's game. “As I mentioned yesterday, we have to be realistic that if a change were to take place in the rotation and we insert Jay into that, we've got to be realistic on how far he can go in a given game. It was a thought to not only include him, but not to get too far away from his most recent start.”
Happ, whose last major-league start was July 16 with the Astros, worked the seventh and eighth innings, allowing one run, leaving him in line to perhaps make that one start next week.
Meanwhile, veteran righthander Bartolo Colon shut the Jays out through eight innings, on seven hits and a walk. The base-on-balls to Cooper in the sixth was the Jays' first walk in 72 batters.