ATLANTA — The Toronto Blue Jays’ starting staff as a whole has elevated its game through the past turn of the rotation. Ricky Romero believes it’s time for the rest of the offence to do the same around Jose Bautista and Adam Lind.
“I’ve always said this, at one point, we can’t rely on Bautista, we can’t rely on Lind, we’ve got to get someone else to step up, get on base, or drive them in,” a frustrated Romero said quietly after a 2-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Monday night.
“Those guys are getting pitched around, everyone’s got to step it up or else we’re going to keep losing ballgames like this. This team doesn’t revolve around one or two parts, and that’s how we’re going to win ballgames.”
The comments were unusually strong from the soft-spoken left-hander, who traded zeroes with Tim Hudson for 6.2 innings before his counterpart turned on a sinker that didn’t sink and sent it over the left-field wall for the decisive two-run blast with two down in the seventh.
The home run — the first by a pitcher against the Blue Jays since David Wells was taken deep by Montreal’s Felipe Lira on July 8, 2000 – was a nice complement to Hudson’s eight brilliant innings of two-hit ball on an oppressively humid night.
It also left the Blue Jays (36-37) just 3-3 over the past six games, despite their starters allowing a mere nine runs and nine walks over their past 42 innings. Romero in particular has been victimized by a lack of support, with the offence pushing across just 13 runs in his nine outings that have resulted in team losses.
“They know,” he replied when asked if he’d delivered a similar message in the clubhouse. “We’re all trying, I’m not singling out anyone or anything like that. At one point, we’ve just got to do the small things and got to continue to get on base. (Bautista and Lind) are going to get pitched around, so we’ve got to have someone else step up. Hopefully we’re able to do that.”
Hudson’s decisive blast came on the first pitch after Romero (6-7) had induced a weak grounder from Diory Hernandez, allowing Yunel Escobar to cut down David Ross at the plate.
Ross had reached on a single to open the frame and advanced to second on an Escobar throwing error, before Nate McLouth’s groundout moved him to third. After throwing out Ross, Escobar slapped his glove in joy, making a big play in his first game against his former team.
The joy was short-lived as Hudson (6-6) then turned Romero’s offering into his second career homer, leaving his counterpart crouched down on the mound in frustration.
“I did everything possible,” said Romero. “I throw that pitch 100 more times, you never really expect the pitcher to hit it out, if anything just put the barrel out and get a base hit or something. It was Timmy’s night I guess.”
The Blue Jays, baffled all night by the crafty Hudson, only threatened once early, when Lind reached on a Freddie Freeman error to open the second and J.P. Arencibia followed with a one-out single. But Rajai Davis and Jayson Nix both flew out to end the threat.
They put another scare into Hudson in the ninth when Mike McCoy led off with a walk and Escobar followed with an infield single. Craig Kimbrel then came on and struck out Corey Patterson, who flubbed two chances at a sacrifice bunt, Jose Bautista and Lind to nail things down for his 20th save as the Braves (41-33) won for the third time in eight games before 22,937 at Turner Field.
Hudson walked just one batter and struck out eight in his eight innings of work. He induced nine groundouts to shortstop plus two more each to second and third, as the Blue Jays tried to attack him early in counts with little success.
“When you’ve got that kind of action to contend with, we had a few quick innings, and against a very good pitcher you’re looking for the best pitches you can get earlier in the count, to try to put something together, square a pitch up,” said manager John Farrell. “But when you have that kind of sinker going, other than J.P.’s line drive, that was pretty much it.”
The Blue Jays’ recent stretch of improved starting pitching comes after Farrell gave his staff a talking to following the June 10-12 spanking from the Boston Red Sox, when the AL East leaders outscored them 35-6 in a three-game set.
A key point he made was that they needed to better a job of pitching inside, something they’ve done consistently since, allowing them to be more effective on both sides of the zone.
“It became apparent when you pitch out over the plate over a very powerful lineup, you’re not going to create any uneasiness in the opposition standing in the batter’s box,” Farrell said before the game. “It’s not that we’ve hit anybody, we haven’t purposely knocked people down, but we’ve been much more assertive in off the plate.”
Still, with the offence scoring just 15 runs over the past six games, the Blue Jays haven’t capitalized on it.
“The pitching is going to worry about the pitching,” said Romero. “The offence we can’t do anything about. Those guys have a job to do, they’re trying their asses off, we’re going to stick by each other, just hopefully get on a good run from here.”
Notes: Escobar finished 1-for-4 with an error and the strong assist in his return to Atlanta. Oddly, the crowd booed him only prior to his third at-bat when he was announced … Hudson’s homer was the first by an Atlanta pitcher since he took Kyle Lohse deep at St. Louis on Sept. 12, 2009 … Hudson retired 20 straight batters from the second through the eighth innings … Kimbrel has struck out 38 per cent (58 of 154) of the hitters he’s faced this season.