CLEVELAND — R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball can be puzzling. Same for the Blue Jays.
Expected to contend this season in the AL East, Toronto was held to two hits by rookie Danny Salazar — making his big league debut — and the up-and-down Blue Jays lost 4-2 to the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday.
After winning 11 straight, the Blue Jays have gone 6-11 and remain stuck in last place in arguably baseball’s toughest division.
“We’re around that edge,” manager John Gibbons said. “We’ve got to start winning some games.”
Dickey (8-10) was in control for five innings, but the right-hander lost command of his tricky pitch in the sixth, when he hit a batter, walked two and gave up an RBI single to Lonnie Chisenhall. A year ago at the All-Star break, Dickey was 12-1 and on his way to winning the NL Cy Young Award.
This season, he’s never been dominant and has only recently been effective.
“The last four or five weeks I’ve really felt good,” Dickey said. “I’ve had one rough start in there, but other than that I’ve really been good as far as the way I’ve felt. I anticipate a pretty strong (second) half.”
Salazar pitched six superb innings — he held Toronto without a hit for the first five — and overpowered the Blue Jays, who struggled to catch up to a fastball that registered 99 mph on the stadium radar gun. The hard-throwing right-hander struck out seven and showed poise from his first pitch to his last.
The Blue Jays have been struggling against any pitcher lately. They were shut out in the series opener and needed a late rally to pull out Wednesday’s win. Toronto scored just seven runs in the series, and one of the AL’s most powerful teams — the Blue Jays are second in homers — didn’t hit one long ball.
“We didn’t hit a home run in the series,” Gibbons said. “When you look at it, when we win, we hit home runs. Our bats have gone cold in the last week. We’ve had some spurts but overall we’re not swinging it real well.”
Salazar was brought up for just one start. He’s headed back to Triple-A Columbus, but it may not be long before Salazar is back in Cleveland on a more permanent basis.
“We think the kid has a very bright future,” Francona said.
Chris Perez gave up a run in a shaky ninth but got his 11th save as the Indians beat Dickey for the second time this season.
Asdrubal Cabrera homered in the first off Dickey and Chisenhall drove in a run in Cleveland’s two-run sixth, which began with Dickey hitting Michael Brantley. Dickey then walked Ryan Raburn, and one out later, he walked slumping Mark Reynolds. Chisenhall then hit a blooper to left with the bases loaded that hung in the air long enough that the runners had to freeze.
When it dropped, Brantley sprinted home and left fielder Rajai Davis, thinking he had a chance at a forceout at home, sailed his throw to the backstop. The ball ricocheted toward the plate, and Raburn scored from second before the Blue Jays could retrieve it.
“He air-mailed it,” Gibbons said of Davis’ throw.
Dickey was more upset with a few of his own tosses that inning.
“The one that hit Brantley took off,” Dickey said. “It went straight left. It wasn’t a bad knuckleball. The walk to Raburn is the one at-bat the whole day I wish I could have had back.”
Jose Bautista hit an RBI double in the sixth for Toronto’s only run off Salazar, who acknowledged being nervous during his pregame bullpen warmup.
But once on the mound, Salazar was unflappable — and for a while, unhittable.
“We couldn’t do anything with Salazar,” Gibbons said. “He’s got a great arm. I tip my hat to the young kid.”
Salazar held Toronto without a hit until the sixth, when Josh Thole, batting just .108 slapped a 1-2 pitch into left. Salazar received a nice ovation from Cleveland fans, who haven’t seen many quality starts lately. Munenori Kawasaki sacrificed and Salazar retired Jose Reyes on a liner to second.
Bautista tied it at 1 with a double.
Down three, the Blue Jays rallied and made it interesting against Perez in the ninth. With two outs, Adam Lind doubled and Colby Rasmus hit an RBI single to make it 4-2. Perez walked pinch-hitter J.P. Arencibia and Davis followed with a liner to left that Brantley snagged in front of the warning track for the final out.
Toronto didn’t string many hits together in the series and Bautista (1 for 11) and Edwin Encarnacion (1 for 10) went a combined 2-for-21.
“Those are the guys the team revolves around but two guys can’t do it all the time,” Gibbons said. We were in that game but we couldn’t get that key blast.”
NOTES: Blue Jays INF Brett Lawrie (sprained left ankle) played his second straight game at second base on a minor league rehab assignment at Triple-A Buffalo on Wednesday. Lawrie has played third since joining the Blue Jays in 2011, but the team is considering a position change when he comes off the disabled list. … Jays OF Melky Cabrera (sore left knee) will begin a rehab assignment Friday with the Bisons. He’s been on the DL since May 27. … The Jays will finish the unofficial first half with three games in Baltimore. Toronto is 17-25 inside its division.