Davidi on Blue Jays: An unsettling opening week

April 7, 2013, 4:23 PM

TORONTO – R.A. Dickey’s final line read 4.1 innings, eight hits, eight runs, all earned, two walks, five strikeouts and three homers allowed – and no it didn’t come during Sunday’s beat-down from the Boston Red Sox.

That performance came last April 18 at Atlanta, when the Braves laid a solid 14-6 thumping on the knuckleballer and his New York Mets, a 79-pitch effort in which it seemed everything he threw up to the plate was turned back with authority.

Far from sinking Dickey, that terrible night turned his season, the right-hander allowing only 11 earned runs over his next 11 starts including a shutout streak of 44.2 innings, on his way to National League Cy Young award.

So before panic sets in over the hammering he took during the Red Sox’s 13-0 victory Sunday over the Toronto Blue Jays – when he allowed eight runs, seven earned, on 10 hits and two walks in 4.2 innings – it’s worth keeping that in mind.

“Atlanta last year was maybe even a click worse than this one,” said Dickey. “You have to understand that with 33 starts, you have a handful that you just have to throw out, and hopefully the majority of them end up the way you want. I’m certainly believing in that, and feel like that’s going to be the case.

“But you’ve got to learn from it, too, you have to have aptitude in this game, there are some things I can get better at I identified on some video after the game, and we’ll see what happens.”

Without doubt things got ugly – OK, totally grotesque – in the finale of a six-game, season-opening homestand that ended with the Blue Jays 2-4, licking their wounds after dropping two of three to former manager John Farrell and the rival Red Sox in a weekend series that drew 132,293 fans, including 41,168 Sunday.

And, no this wasn’t a very good way to open a season of such high expectations, particularly at a time when an ambitious off-season makeover is still congealing, and there aren’t enough collective past experiences to draw faith from.

But this week’s road trip to Detroit and Kansas City, starting Tuesday against the Tigers, may be exactly what the Blue Jays need, removing them from sideshow-filled environment tied to excitement over the new season and Farrell’s return, which turned the stands into anger-venting grounds.

“It’s always good to pass the first week of the season, especially when you start the season at home, there’s so much stuff going on,” said shortstop Jose Reyes. “It’s going to be good for us go away for a little bit and when we come back everything is going to be fine and normal. This is only six games.

“With the talent we have we should be OK.”

The road trip should also allow the Blue Jays to more comfortably slide into the normal routine of the season, away from the hysteria of the fatalistic segment of a fan-base scarred by past disappointments.

Viewed within that prism, the opening week was unsettling.

Dickey was outpitched twice by opponents’ aces, and switching in Henry Blanco behind the plate in place of J.P. Arencibia was no panacea. Mark Buehrle was also hit hard, Josh Johnson was so-so, and a strong outing from Brandon Morrow was wasted.

An offence expected to do its share of the heavy lifting came and went, looking especially vulnerable without Jose Bautista, who missed the entire Red Sox series with an ankle sprain but is expected to return Tuesday. Melky Cabrera collected just four hits all week, Colby Rasmus three, Edwin Encarnacion two, Adam Lind one.

And the defence has been OK at best, with Brett Lawrie’s absence at third base noticeable in the field even more so than at the plate.

For what it’s worth, people’s initial exposure to the 2013 Blue Jays didn’t come as advertised.

“We’ve got enough guys with individual accomplishments that have been consistently good year-in, year-out,” Morrow said in offering a voice of reason. “I mean, I don’t see anybody pressing, or getting angry, or feeling like they’re trying to do too much in the box right now.

“It’s just the way it is, we’ll go on a hot stretch, too, and that will make up the ground we lost right now.”

True, but what made things feel more frustrating is that while the Blue Jays wait to click, the revamped Red Sox, now 4-2, are rolling out of the gate.

Will Middlebrooks was a one-man wrecking crew, his two-run shot in the first capping a run of five straight hits off Dickey to open the game, while he added solo blasts leading off the fifth and seventh innings for his first career three-homer game.

Mike Napoli, one of the Red Sox’s key off-season acquisitions, hit a two-run double in the first and a two-run homer in the eighth, and also drove in the winning run with a groundout Friday night. Shane Victorino reached twice and scored, and was a pest all series.

And Jon Lester, who endured Tim Lincecum and Ricky Romero-like struggles last year, dominated through seven innings of work Sunday, allowing only five hits, setting the tone the way Dickey did so often last year.

The Braves beating, for context’s sake, came in Dickey’s third start of the 2012 season, while the one from the Red Sox was in start No. 2, so he’s ahead of schedule on that front. Perhaps a return to form is due to come earlier as well, as he sat and watched video in the clubhouse after getting pulled and found some areas to focus on to get himself on track.

“For one, I need to change speeds better,” Dickey explained. “Mechanically, I’m going to stay back over the rubber just a hair longer … not any huge adjustments mechanically, just little things I need to refine.”

In other words, don’t go crying over Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard just yet.

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