DETROIT – Instead of the fast start the Toronto Blue Jays envisioned in this season of expectations, they are starting to dig themselves into a bit of a hole.
A three-game series against the defending American-League champion Detroit Tigers opened with a fifth loss in seven outings Tuesday, this time a 7-3 setback in which they trailed wire to wire.
Brandon Morrow fought uphill into the fourth inning before Miguel Cabrera hit a three-run blast off the top of the fence in right field that knocked the right-hander out and provided the decisive blow.
Anibal Sanchez – like Cabrera, among the seven players salary-dumped by the Marlins featured on one of the two teams in this contest – made that stand up with room to spare over seven outstanding innings, during which he allowed two runs on five hits and a walk, while striking out eight.
"We're not playing great baseball right now," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "Defending champs over there, they can take it to you."
The Tigers also picked up Omar Infante from the Marlins' veteran-player discount shop, while the Blue Jays have Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle.
At 2-5, the Blue Jays are last in the American League East, and matched the 2012 start of the rebuilt Marlins they poached this past winter.
"We've played seven games," said Gibbons. "We've got a good ball club, we'll snap out of it. It would be nice one of these games to throw three or four runs up in the first inning, that makes it a little easier on the pitchers, too.
"Everything is just magnified now because of who we are. We'll get through it."
WHERE THINGS STAND: The first road trip of the season for the Blue Jays (2-5) is a six-game affair that will also take them to Kansas City on the weekend. The Tigers (4-3) continued their strong play after taking two of three from the Yankees before a crowd of 28,979 at Comerica Park. Mark Buehrle faces Rick Porcello on Wednesday, weather permitting.
BAUTISTA'S BACK: Jose Bautista returned to the lineup at designated hitter after missing three games with a sprained right ankle, as the Blue Jays decided to ease him back into action. "When you first start back," he explained, "if you have the luxury of having a DH spot, you never know what can happen when you react with a flyball or something, not risking it is smart, and I think I can handle running the bases."
He went 0-for-4, including a drive to deep centre in the eighth that would likely have been a home run at the Rogers Centre.
RAINY DAYS: The weather forecasters were off the mark Tuesday, as predicted afternoon rains never showed, but the reports look fairly bleak for Wednesday and Thursday. Both teams will be eager to get these games in, as the Blue Jays are in their only scheduled visit of the season to Detroit and making them up won't be simple.
The teams have three mutual off-days, June 3, Aug. 19 and Sept. 5, but they'd have to be cognizant of not violating a collective bargaining agreement rule against playing games in more than 21 consecutive days (although special permission could be obtained).
The September date would likely be ideal, because rosters would be expanded to up to 40 men, while a makeup game after the season's end could also be in line, if necessary.
NEED-TO-KNOW NUMBER: How all-or-nothing are the Blue Jays at the plate right now? They have scored 25 runs through their first seven games, 18 of them via 12 home runs. That's 72 per cent of their total offence.
"There's no doubt our offence is cold right now," said manager John Gibbons. "You fall behind, it's tough to come back."
ROBBED: J.P. Arencibia was robbed of a homer leading off the second when his drive to left field was snared by a leaping Don Kelly as he flew into the fence.
Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez held his fist in the air toward Kelly as the outfielder lifted his glove to indicate he had indeed pulled the ball back from beyond the wall.
DON'T RUN ON ME: The Blue Jays collected their first outfield assist of the season when Rajai Davis threw out Torii Hunter at home plate trying to score from second on a Miguel Cabrera single in the third inning.
Davis picked up the grounder in short right and fired home to J.P. Arencibia, who took the ball on a few hops and swiped Hunter's arm before it got the plate. It was an aggressive send by third base coach Tom Brookens with nobody out and Prince Fielder coming to the plate, and kept Detroit's lead at 2-1.
THE BATS: Once again the Blue Jays offence failed to sustain any pressure, eking out runs in the third on an Emilio Bonifacio triple and Jose Reyes single and in the fourth on a Reyes single, stolen base and Melky Cabrera base hit.
Colby Rasmus added a solo blast in the ninth, his third of the season. He has four hits, no singles.
Edwin Encarnacion went 0-for-4 and is now mired in a 2-for-27 rut.
They did have some back luck on the drives by J.P. Arencibia and Jose Bautista, but they haven't been able to create very much offence without the home run.
"When you really get things going, everybody starts swinging it at one time," said manager John Gibbons. "That's what we could use right now."
THE ARMS: Brandon Morrow struggled to contain the Tigers throughout his outing, allowing an RBI double to Prince Fielder in the first, a solo shot to Alex Avila in the second, and working out of a bases-loaded jam in the third before getting KO'd in the fourth.
He allowed five runs on nine hits and two walks in 3.2 innings.
"I just didn't make a pitch when I needed to," said Morrow. "That was pretty much the story of the game, 0-2 hits, walking guys after I had them 0-2, two-out hits, I just wasn't very good when I needed to be."
Asked what kept him from being able to finish off hitters, Morrow replied: "I kept throwing my slider in the dirt, tried to make an adjustment in that last at-bat to Torii Hunter (before the Cabrera homer) and left it up a little bit, they just weren't biting on stuff when I was ahead in the count, they got back into some counts, I left some pitches out and over the plate when I was ahead. That was kind of the whole game."
Brett Cecil and Esmil Rogers combined on 3.1 shutout innings of relief, while Darren Oliver was burned for a pair of runs, one earned, in the eighth set up by a Maicer Izturis throwing error.
NOTES: Edgar Gonzalez, claimed on waivers from Houston on Sunday, joined the Blue Jays in Detroit, while Dave Bush cleared waivers and was outrighted to triple-A Buffalo after being designated for assignment Monday. Gonzalez recorded one out in the eighth. … Torii Hunter's single in the seventh inning gave him 2,000 for his career. … Melky Cabrera's single in the first was hit No. 1,000.