TORONTO – That off-season buildup sure is looking pretty impressive after two games – for the Cleveland Indians at least.
The Toronto Blue Jays, on the other hand, are still looking to gain their footing in 2013 after falling to the Tribe for the second straight night, 3-2 in 11 innings Wednesday.
Having had a winter full of hype and anticipation deflated by a season-opening 4-1 loss, they were looking good after Jose Bautista knotted things up with a one-out solo shot off closer Chris Perez in the ninth inning.
But they stranded base-runners in both the ninth and 10th innings, and Sergio Santos, working on back-to-back days, served up a 1-2 meatball that Mark Reynolds clobbered to centre to put the Indians back up.
Joe Smith closed things out in the bottom of the 11th, sending the Blue Jays to their first 0-2 start since dropping three straight to open the 2004 season.
“This team is built to score runs, we haven’t done that yet,” said manager John Gibbons. “We’re going to hit, but that’s basically been the difference in the games.
“They’ve pitched good against us, they really have. There may have been some times we’ve been a little over-aggressive, but I can’t take anything away, I have to tip my hat to them, too.”
The Blue Jays were nearly done in earlier by a Maicer Izturis throwing error on a potential double-play ball in the eighth inning.
Darren Oliver opened the eighth by walking Nick Swisher and Michael Brantley followed with his fourth hit of the night before Carlos Santana hit a chopper to third that Izturis picked cleverly, took to third for one out and then threw wildly to first, allowing Brantley to come around.
Playing third base in Brett Lawrie’s absence, Izturis also had a hand in the first Indians run, as Michael Bourn’s leadoff flare nicked off his outstretched glove for a double, after a leap he may have mistimed. He came around on Brantley’s chopper through the left side to open the scoring.
Izturis did provide his team’s first run of the night with a solo blast to right in the third, the first Blue Jays homer of the season.
Much like the Blue Jays, the Indians made some significant off-season additions, singing free agents Bourn, Swisher and Reynolds, while hiring Terry Francona as manager. They’re 2-0 to start a season for the first time since 2008.
WHERE THINGS STAND: The Blue Jays (0-2) send Mark Buehrle to the mound in the series finale against the Indians (2-0) on Thursday as they aim to avoid a sweep. A win would help in a big way ahead of what should be an emotional series with the Boston Red Sox and former manager John Farrell on Friday.
I DISAGREE: Manager John Gibbons came out of the dugout for his first argument of the season during the eighth inning, when a sliding Swisher appeared to field a weak Izturis chopper in foul territory but relayed the ball to first for an out.
First-base umpire Lance Barksdale called the ball fair and Gibbons approached home plate umpire Kerwin Danley asking he over-rule the call. His pleas fell on deaf ears.
THE ARMS: Brandon Morrow was impressive in his first start of the season for the Blue Jays, allowing just a run on five hits and two walks in six innings, while striking out eight.
All the Ks came in handy as he needed to work out of jams in the second and third frames but also kept him from getting deeper into the contest. Morrow used a 1-4-3 double play off the bat of Mark Reynolds to end the sixth after allowing consecutive singles with one out.
“The (strikeout) didn’t go away, I could still strike a guy out when I need to,” said Morrow. “Last year most of my strikeouts came in situations like that, that’s just being economic with your pitch count, not trying to fall behind guys working the count and then getting a 3-2 strikeout, or have to work your way back from a 2-0 before finally striking a guy out.
“I’m throwing more pitches in the strike zone looking for that contact and tonight I needed some strikeouts to bail me out of some jams.”
Ubaldo Jimenez was just as tough on the Blue Jays, allowing three hits and two walks in his six frames of work, and the Izturis home run was the only time a batter advanced past first against him.
Closer Casey Janssen, making his season debut after shoulder surgery, allowed a hit and struck out one in a clean 10th.
“As a pitcher when you’re not scoring, and it’s only been two games, you live and die with every pitch you make,” said Gibbons. “The game’s on the line and you’re under the gun. The pitching has been pretty good.”
THE BATS: Beyond the home runs from Bautista and Izturis, hits continued to be hard to come by for the Blue Jays, who didn’t have multiple baserunners in an inning until the ninth.
They collected only three walks and have been unable to piece together anything resembling a sustained rally though their first two games – totalling nine hits in 20 innings.
“With (Justin) Masterson (Tuesday) night and Jimenez, they’re both quick to the plate, maybe sometimes hit and run but they both scatter it a little bit, too, if they’re staying in the strike zone it’s a little easier to hit and run sometimes,” said Gibbons. “They could be a little wild, that makes (bunting) tough, too. But we really haven’t had the right guys on to do that.
“We just need to get some more base-runners on, get a big hit to maybe plate two runs, that should make a difference. That way everyone can breathe easier.”
DICKEY DUTY: Gibbons said before the game that Henry Blanco will likely catch R.A. Dickey’s next start, but “not necessarily because of (Tuesday) night” when J.P. Arencibia had a club record three passed balls and a wild pitch.
“I want to get them all in there as soon as possible. J.P. will catch ‘til then,” said Gibbons.
In terms how the two backstops would split Dickey duty, Gibbons was non-committal, saying: “We’ll see how it goes. We said during spring training, when J.P. did a solid job with it, we want his bat in the lineup on certain nights. We’ll see how it all plays out. I don’t want to get all caught up in that right now. We’ll see how it all develops.”
ROMERO PLAN: The minor-league season opens Thursday but Ricky Romero won’t be starting for single-A Dunedin in the days to come.
The left-hander is being limited to side sessions designed to ingrain some fixes to his mechanics and he won’t get into any games until that process has locked in.
The progressive steps for him include either pitching with a batter standing in or live batting practice, and only after that will he end up back on the mound in games.