BOSTON-It was only the Blue Jays' 37th game of the 2013 season, but it has already come down to a scheduled start by a journeyman righthander named Diogenes Ramon Ortiz, a 39-year-old whose best seasons -- 44 of his 86 wins -- were with the Angels from from 2001-03. It should be noted, historically, Diogenes was a Greek philosopher who pioneered Cynicism -- which is the frame of mind many Jays fans have arrived at. It did not help Friday with the Red Sox 5-0 win over the Jays.
It was no surprise that lefthander Jon Lester dominated the Jays, tossing a one-hitter, carrying a perfect game into the sixth inning before a two-out double by Maicer Izturis broke up the bid. Lester already has a career no-hitter to his credit, May 19, 2008 vs. the Royals at Fenway. He had tossed seven shutout innings vs. the Jays on April 7 and had no decision on April 30.
“He was on and he's their ace and he can do that to you,” manager John Gibbons tipped his cap to Lester. “He mowed us down. We've always seen him good. He's one of the better ones in the game. Especially as those first few innings were going along, from the side it's tough to tell but then you look up at the replays and the balls are cutting, good changeup. He carved us up pretty good.”
But what was surprising was the tenacity with which the Jays' venerable retread, Ortiz kept his team in the contest through five. Ortiz had runners in scoring position in every inning, overcoming two errors, four hits and five walks to keep the game close. The only run Ortiz allowed came on a Will Middlebrooks fielder's choice in the second.
The Sox were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position facing the crafty veteran righthander. But they added three runs in the seventh vs. Brett Cecil and righthander Mickey Storey in his AL debut, after 26 games with the Astros last year.
“(Ortiz) did a tremendous job,” Gibbons said. “He kept us right there. He did more than we wanted to and expected, so good for him. I don't know how he could have done more. He got some groundballs and that's what you need. A lot of pitches were borderline pitches that I don't think he got tonight. But he pounds the strike zone. That's his game. Those crafty veterans.”
Gibbons claimed that Ortiz had good control, even though the pitching line showed five bases-on-balls. But the Red Sox are known for their patience and grinding at-bats and umpires are awre.
“It's hard pitching here in Boston, the same as New York,” Ortiz said when asked about being more efficient in his pitch count the next time out, if there is one. “The umpire, I throw a lot of good pitches down, inside and we don't get any pitch. It's not excuses, but when the umpire gives me the pitches it's a different story. But today that didn't go and we have to come in tomorrow and win.”
What has happened to the Jays rotation depth? Each spring training, GM Alex Anthopoulos uses the month of March to determine a depth chart of possible starting pitchers should there be injuries or failures at the major-league level. The Jays have averaged 12 different pitchers per year with at least one start over the past three seasons. So why was Oritz number eight? Where's the beef in 2013?
In addition to the Jays' original starting five pitchers coming out of spring training, both Aaron Laffey and Ricky Romero have started games. Now, with Josh Johnson and J.A. Happ both sidelined until at least the end of the month and with Brandon Morrow, Sunday's scheduled starter, remaining in Florida to have his back spasms checked out the Jays are going to have to dig deeper into the shallow end of their starting pool – unless GM Alex Anthopoulos is working on a trade or a waiver claim.
“I'll tell you, (Alex) never sleeps, he's always looking for different ways to make the team better so I'm sure he's looking that route as well,” manager John Gibbons said prior to Friday's loss.
“But it's not easy to do, especially this time of year, teams don't want to give up players because most of them still think they have a shot as well. I would be very surprised if we ended up going that route if (Morrow) couldn't pitch. He was throwing his bullpen and had muscle spasms in his upper back and the next day it moved up towards his neck. Just have to get that out of there. Yeah, until Sunday gets here we won't know for sure but we think he'll make it.”
So who's got next of the Jays have to reach down for another starter by Sunday? Finding veteran help is not a problem for the Jays, even just tapping into AAA-Buffalo. Romero suddenly has become the youngest member of the Bisons' rotation. Anthopoulos would be able to choose from Miguel Batista, 42, Claudio Vargas, 34, Justin Germano, 30 and Edgar Gonzalez, 30.
If you're rounding up the usual suspects in terms of potential starters, you always have to include a pair of former first round draft picks, Chad Jenkins (June '09) and Deck McGuire (June '10). Jenkins was slated to be converted into a reliever, but just now is coming back from inflammation of his right shoulder and has gone into the Double-A Fisher Cats rotation. McGuire, who was not invited to major-league camp this spring, is 2-3, with a 5.11 ERA in seven starts at New Hampshire.
“You know something's going to go wrong, you're never going to get through the season with five guys,” Gibbons said. “They brought in some veteran guys who had success in the big leagues, they've been there. It's definitely coming into play.
“A lot of them haven't had any starts here but they've been on that shuttle back and forth to cover off some of the rough starts earlier. (Jenkins) is throwing well. He's a little bit limited right now but he's on track. He's building himself up right now. But he's a guy the organization really likes.”
If it is determined Morrow cannot make the start in the series finale on Sunday, the Jays will make that decision on Saturday and yet another pitching injury will step up to cost them.
And it's not just the pitchers. Rajai Davis left Friday's loss in the fourth inning with a strained left oblique that he had first felt in Tampa and been getting daily treatment.
“It's just nagging,” Davis said. “It's not progressing like I was wanting to. It was a manager's decision and I think it's a wise decision and it's in our best interest.”
And thus it continues.