TORONTO – First off, props to Todd Redmond. Mop-up guys who soak up the often meaningless innings that come after a starter buries his team rarely get recognized. The 4.2 innings he threw in Saturday’s 5-3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels really saved the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen, keeping the club’s core relievers ready for a day when their work will matter far more than it would have in this one.
So, a job well done.
"That’s what a long reliever is supposed to do, eat up innings and keep the game close so we have a chance to win," said Redmond, who allowed an unearned run on five hits with one strikeout in his first outing since May 3. "It was a tough game, Tyler Skaggs did a great job over there, and in the ninth we still had a chance to tie it and win.
"That was my goal, and it was very satisfying to be able to save the bullpen for tomorrow."
The problem, of course, is that 4.2 innings were needed from Redmond in the first place, and with J.A. Happ struggling to make it through 2.1 innings and leaving down 4-1, the Blue Jays have to be concerned about a left-hander they are hoping can cover Brandon Morrow’s extended absence.
True, Happ threw five shutout innings against Philadelphia in his previous outing and the Angels can thump with the best of them, but that can’t be an excuse. If anything, performances against the junior varsity Phillies offence shouldn’t be overrated, while the Angels offer a better indicator of how a pitcher may fare in the big boy league.
The signs Saturday weren’t pretty.
Chris Ianetta and C.J. Cron each crushed home runs off Happ, while Albert Pujols narrowly missed hitting a couple himself, including a drive to the wall in left field with the bases loaded that Melky Cabrera snared to end a dicey second.
The Angels dinked a couple of hits, too, but they sent far more rockets all over the place. Add in that Happ needed 60 pitches to get through just 15 batters and you get a pretty toxic mix.
"I was pulling my two-seam, it came back over the plate a few times, and I was trying to get the changeup in there, and was just missing, and that made it tough," Happ said. "Looking back I’d maybe try to mix it up a little more, but that was the issue."
With top prospect Marcus Stroman sitting in the bullpen and looking good in three relief appearances so far, there will surely be some discussion over whether the young right-hander should be promoted into the rotation in Happ’s place (especially now that the Dustin McGowan relief watch is on hold).
But given that Happ has made just two starts since coming off the disabled list after first rotting in the bullpen for a couple of weeks, expect the Blue Jays to try and do right by him for a while longer before a switch happens.
"I felt pretty good in the bullpen and I felt good before the game, it was just a matter of not executing," said Happ when asked if the layoff affected his sharpness. "It’s definitely not an excuse I’m going to make for it, I expect to be better than that, that’s for sure."
The Blue Jays sound determined to give him a legitimate shot at holding the job, even though there’s a strong pro-Stroman camp. Seeking a real return on the $5.2 million invested in Happ is a factor, also.
Still, the Blue Jays can ill-afford too many more starts like the one Saturday.
Besides making the bullpen work, the four runs surrendered by Happ – on a Cron single and two-run shot by Chris Iannetta in the second to erase a 1-0 Blue Jays lead, and a Cron solo drive in the third – were more than enough for a dominant Skaggs.
The 22-year-old lefty, part of the Angels’ return for Mark Trumbo during the off-season, allowed Jose Bautista to reach on an error in the first and then surrendered an RBI double to Edwin Encarnacion before retiring the next 21 batters he faced.
Steve Tolleson ended that run with a two-out double in the eighth, but Chris Getz promptly grounded out to short to end the frame. Back-to-back singles by Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera to open the ninth ended the afternoon for Skaggs, and after Jose Smith surrendered RBI singles to Bautista and Dioner Navarro, Adam Lind hit into a 1-6-3 double play to end things.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons declined to speak with media afterwards, offering only the following quote through the team’s media relations staff: "Skaggs was great, he manhandled us."
No doubt there.
The best the Blue Jays can hope for now is a split of their four-game set with the Angels, and they’ll have to beat Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson to make it happen. If their bullpen contributes to wins in those contests they’ll have Redmond to thank for helping to keep them fresh.