CHICAGO – Henderson Alvarez’s sinker hasn’t been all it needs to be lately.
“He’s probably thrown more flat fastballs, not so much hit a flat spot,” Toronto Blue Jays manager John Farrell said before his sophomore starter took the mound Wednesday. “He’s thrown a few more fastballs that have stayed on the plate that haven’t had that good, heavy sinking action to it. He’s pulled some changeups into left-handers and because of the velocity he throws his changeup with, it almost becomes like a sinker that doesn’t sink.
“When he’s right, as we’ve all seen, he’s attacked the strike zone, worked ahead in the count, and most importantly has dominated the bottom part of the zone.”
Alvarez was back to form hours later with seven strong innings against the Chicago White Sox, but was forced to settle for a no-decision after coughing up a game-tying two-run shot in the sixth inning to Alex Rios on a sinker that didn’t sink.
That set the stage for some late-game drama, and Orlando Hudson delivered a walkoff single in the ninth off Francisco Cordero that sent the Blue Jays, his former team, to a 4-3 loss.
Much the way Alvarez had a reversal of fortune, so too did Cordero, who surrendered a run for just the second time in his past 15 outings.
While he admitted to leaving a ball up to Hudson, the pivotal pitch came a batter earlier when a changeup in the dirt squirted by J.P. Arencibia for a wild pitch and advanced Dayan Viciedo, who had singled, to second.
Viciedo moved to third on Alexei Ramirez’s fly ball to centre and scored easily on Hudson’s liner.
“It was that pitch that got by J.P. because he would have been at first and you give up the base hit (to Hudson), it’d probably be a man on second and first,” said Cordero. “You never know what’s going to happen there.
“I’ve been pitching a lot better and it’s just because I’ve been getting ahead of the hitter. I’ve been throwing better pitches. My slider’s been working good, my changeup has been working, my fastball. It’s stuff that happens in the game.”
THE BIG PICTURE: The Blue Jays (30-27) had their three-game win streak come to an end and missed an opportunity to complete a sweep of the AL-Central leading White Sox (32-25), who ended their two-game skid before a crowd of 25,743 at U.S. Cellular Field.
“To win a road series is always a good thing,” said Farrell, “yet we set ourselves up for a potential sweep here but they didn’t roll over by any means, and we were in a tight game all the way to the end.”
The Blue Jays are now 3-for-6 when they try complete a sweep.
THE PITCHING: Alvarez made it through seven innings for the first time since May 10, when he went also seven in a win at Minnesota. He hasn’t won since, but kept things under control in a way he hasn’t in his previous four outings.
Like Brandon Morrow, Alvarez was also coming off an outing in which he was struck on the shin, Mike Aviles’ drive leaving a welt on his left leg. He had no trouble shaking that off, but gave up a run in the first on a generously scored Rios single through third baseman Brett Lawrie.
There was no more damage against him until Rios’s shot in the sixth, which tied things up 3-3.
In all, he allowed seven hits, one walk with two strikeouts.
“I’m happy with the way I pitched, I feel like all my pitches were working tonight, the sinker, the slider and the changeup,” Alvarez said through interpreter Luis Rivera.
As for the sinker, Alvarez seemed to see things somewhat different than his manager, saying, “it might seem that way (flat), but I feel like I can throw a sinker that doesn’t move much, when I want to throw an inside fastball I throw that one, and then I can throw the sinker that moves. Sometimes it looks like the sinker didn’t break, but it’s just a four-seamer.”
Addison Reed (1-1) picked up the win after striking out Kelly Johnson with Jose Bautista at second base to end the ninth.
THE OFFENCE: Mike McCoy’s two-run single in the second put the Jays up before J.P. Arencibia scored on Ramirez’s unfairly scored error on Lawrie’s grounder up the middle for all the damage they could muster against an ineffective Jake Peavy.
They managed four hits and five walks against the righty in six innings but kept letting him off the hook.
Another key squandered opportunity came in the eighth, when Omar Vizquel made two attempts at a safety squeeze with a runner on third with one out before striking out.
Pinch-hitter Yan Gomes then hit into a fielder’s choice that Hudson, apparently losing track of outs in the frame, bizarrely went home on, forcing catcher A.J. Pierzynski to tag Yunel Escobar, rather than making an easy throw across the diamond.
The Blue Jays also had runners on the corners with two out in the seventh, but David Cooper’s liner to centre was right at Alejandro De Aza.
SCRATCHED: Rajai Davis was pulled out of the lineup shortly before game-time with a jammed middle finger on his left hand and was replaced in left field by Mike McCoy. With a runner on third and two out in the eighth, Farrell pinch-hit Gomes for McCoy, leaving the rookie to make his professional debut in left field.
Just Wednesday, the manager had said: “We will continue to get him exposure to work in left field, but that’s something that’s not going to take place overnight. We want to at least prepare him as best we can.”
Need forced caution out the window.
DROPPING THE DH: Edwin Encarnacion hit off a tee Thursday and is expected to return to the Blue Jays lineup from his hand injury Friday in Atlanta.
Farrell said Encarnacion is expected to be at first base as his team loses the DH for its first of nine games under National League rules. Right now David Cooper will be the odd man out.
“We’re going to get three right-handed pitchers through this next series,” said Farrell. “Where Cooper fits in, he’s swing the bat exceptionally well since coming up to us, we might see him at first base in one of these three games, or certainly we would see him in pinch-hit situations for the pitcher or someone else as we get deeper into games.
“This year compared to last year, our bench has got a full complement of versatility left-right, some speed, some ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark, so we feel from a roster standpoint as equipped going into a National League series as at any time over the last year plus.”
BECK BACK: The Blue Jays sent reliever Robert Coello back to triple-A Las Vegas before the game and brought up 51s closer Chad Beck.
“(Coello) gave us the ability to go multiple innings, which when we brought him up here (was needed),” explained Farrell. “We felt like we caught back up now and the fact that it has been six, seven days, since he has been in a game, we wanted to get a more recent usage of a guy and we were confident in Beck coming up here.”
ON THE MEND: Travis Snider was assigned to single-A Dunedin to continue his recovery from a jammed right wrist, and will remain there through the weekend before the team decides where he continues his rehab, “whether it’s a return to Vegas or wherever that might be,” said Farrell.
“The most important thing is he’s got no issues going on, he’s swinging the bat well and very encouraging,” added Farrell.
Closer Sergio Santos, meanwhile, has thrown three bullpens and is waiting for his next step.
“It will be determined whether he takes live BP his next outing or needs to get back onto the mound without hitters,” said Farrell. “But it has been fastball-changeup 25-30 pitches per bullpen, increasing intensity with each one. We’re moving along the program.”