MIAMI -– Every inning the Toronto Blue Jays get from their starters is like gold these days, and another big night from the offence allowed Ricky Romero to work without too much stress Friday.
The ace left-hander cruised through seven frames of four-run ball, backed by a home run and three RBIs from Jose Bautista, three more RBIs from Kelly Johnson, and three hits and a career-best four runs from Brett Lawrie in a 12-5 thumping of the Miami Marlins.
At a time of flux for the starting rotation, the lineup has picked an ideal time to click.
"I can’t say it’s because of a conscious effort on their part to make up for some uncertainties as far as our rotation and overall pitching is concerned, but they’ve swing the bat with a lot of confidence," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said of his offence. "They feel like they’re going to walk into a ballpark whether it’s home or on the road and put up a good offensive night.
"And it’s good to see we’re not just going up and swinging at everything, we’ve had very good at-bats, we’ve worked the count and we’ve been able to put multiple hits together inside a given inning."
The Blue Jays took control of this one early, opening the scoring in the first on Lawrie’s triple and Colby Rasmus’s RBI groundout, going up 3-0 in the third on Bautista’s RBI single and Johnson’s sacrifice fly, and moving comfortably ahead in the fourth on bases-loaded walks by Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion plus another sac fly by Johnson.
Up 6-2, they put things away in with a five-run sixth, highlighted by J.P. Arencibia’s two-run double.
Romero was burned for two home runs, a solo shot by Giancarlo Stanton in the fourth and a two-run blast Omar Infante in the sixth, but was never really threatened and retained control of things throughout.
Given the chaos of the past three games in Milwaukee, where no Blue Jays starter went more than four innings, his performance offered a weary bullpen a welcome break.
"Set the tone," Romero said of what he can do to help the rest of the staff. "Set the tone and go out there and grind, that’s all I ever tell the guys, it doesn’t matter how many runs you give up. I talked to Henderson (Alvarez) after his start, no matter how many runs you give up, your team looks up to you when you’re out there, and you give up four, five runs, you’ve got to keep grinding, don’t let it beat you and get you out of there in the fourth or fifth.
"Little stuff like that, I’m able to help the guys and I’m going to continue to do that. Hopefully they can learn something from me."
THE BIG PICTURE: The Blue Jays (36-34) once again evened their interleague record at 8-8 and with a sweep this weekend of the Marlins (33-37), can win the season series against the National League for the first time since going 10-8 in 2007.
THE ARMS: Romero (8-1) delivered seven innings for just the second time in his past nine starts, allowing four runs on seven hits while walking four, most of them once the game was out of reach for the Marlins.
It was also the seventh time in 15 starts that he’s allowed four or more runs, underlining his continued troubles finding the consistency he showed during his all-star 2011 campaign.
"It’s been a combination of everything," said Romero. "Sometimes my changeup is on early and then it’s not, sometimes my cutter isn’t cutting as consistent as it once was, so, you just continue to make pitches and hope the guys get themselves out.
"I was able to get out of some jams today and prevent the big inning."
Robert Coello worked the eighth, surrendering a home run to Gaby Sanchez, while David Pauley made his Blue Jays debut in a scoreless ninth. He was claimed on waivers from the Los Angeles Angels earlier in the week.
Marlins starter Anibal Sanchez (3-6) didn’t make it out of the fourth, allowing six runs on seven hits and four walks.
THE BATS: Lawrie’s four runs scored were a season-high — he’s scored three runs on three occasions –- and is now batting .328 with a .400 OBP, three homers, eight RBIs and 17 runs scored in 16 games as the leadoff hitter.
He was in the middle of every Toronto rally, and added a stolen base for good measure.
"I feel that if I don’t get the opportunity to get on, that Rasmus will," said Lawrie. "I feel like we’re on base a lot for Jose and Eddie to do their job and drive us in … they’ve been hitting the ball hard. Just trying to get on base for my guys and going out there and having fun."
The Blue Jays are in the midst of one of their best offensive stretches of the year, with 46 runs over their past seven games, winning five of those outings.
"I don’t know that we’re going to score five to nine runs a night," said Farrell, "but whether it’s just a cycle we’re going through, the timeliness to it is key for us, to keep us in positive territory in terms of the overall record."
NO KNIFE FOR HUTCH: Drew Hutchison will indeed rehab his right elbow injury and avoid surgery after follow-up exams confirmed the initial diagnosis of a ligament sprain, although he will miss the bulk of 2012.
The rookie right-hander was checked by his own choice of doctor plus the club’s physician in Florida, while specialist Dr. James Andrews also reviewed test results, and all came to the same conclusion. He is on a no-throw program for 4-to-6 weeks, and if he feels better after that time, he can resume throwing.
The sense is that Hutchison will be able to return as good as new.
"That’s exactly what I asked: Will we get 100 per cent of Drew or will we get 90 per cent or 80 per cent?" said GM Alex Anthopoulos. "He’ll be the same. It’ll be 100 per cent. Too many people feel strongly about it. Nothing is guaranteed, of course. There can always be a setback. But we think Drew will be fine."
SLOW FOR MORROW: Brandon Morrow is continuing his recovery from a strained oblique in Dunedin, Fla., but there is no timetable for his return, especially since he’ll need to get his arm back into shape once the injury heals.
"It’s like spring training all over," said Anthopoulos. "Until that pain is completely gone (he can’t start throwing). I would expect the pain to be gone in the next few weeks. At that point he could start a throwing program. But, again, that isn’t going to be forced. Things are slow to heal at times."
DRAFT DOINGS: The Blue Jays are moving toward a deal with second-round pick Chase DeJong but aren’t making headway with first-rounder Marcus Stroman.
Anthopoulos said he "would expect" to have DeJong, a high school right-hander chosen 81st overall, to sign before the July 13 deadline, but described the situation with Stroman, the college righty some feel could pitch out of a big-league bullpen later this summer, as one "I don’t know at this time the way that one’s going to go."
The two are the last Blue Jays picks from the first 10 rounds to remain unsigned and Anthopoulos said what the team can offer under the new draft spending rules is clear.
"If there’s problems or concerns with slot, there’s a good chance we won’t have them all signed," he said. "It’s not as much negotiation right now to be honest with you. Unless someone wants to try to negotiate and convince us to lose our draft pick, it’s a non-negotiable item. So, what we have is pretty straight forward. … It’s not a game because everyone can start doing the math."
FRONT-OFFICE SHUFFLE: The promotion of amateur scouting director Andrew Tinnish to assistant GM is one Anthopoulos has had his eye on for a while, and gives him another sounding board in the club’s Toronto offices.
"I think Andrew’s just another guy that brings a baseball element to the office because the two guys that I lean on for evaluations quite a bit are Perry Minasian and Tony LaCava, and they don’t live in Toronto, they’re out scouting, they’re evaluating players, and in the office right now it’s more administrative based," Anthopoulos explained. "Andrew brings another evaluator into the office with administrative abilities."
Brian Parker was promoted to replace Tinnish from his role as professional scouting crosschecker.