Latest loss a reminder that Blue Jays’ pitching search not over yet

Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Brett Anderson (46) works against the Kansas City Royals during first inning AL baseball action in Toronto on Wednesday, September 20, 2017. (Nathan Denette/CP)

TORONTO – By the time Brett Anderson returned to the third base dugout, the game was already out of hand. Seven runs had crossed the plate. Soon, two more would follow.

All told, Anderson had just completed his worst start of an otherwise promising audition with the Toronto Blue Jays. So, as he sat in the dugout, he released some of that frustration and tore his hat in two.

“If I had my druthers, I probably wouldn’t wear the white-fronted hat too often,” Anderson said. “Going forward, if I come back next year, I probably won’t wear that one just based off tonight.

“I think there’s parts of it left in the dugout if you guys want some souvenirs.”

It’s far from Damaso Garcia setting his uniform on fire, but it’s the latest frustrating episode in a season that’s included more than a few of them for the Blue Jays, who fell to 71-81 with Wednesday’s 15-5 loss to the Kansas City Royals.

The Blue Jays had hoped that Anderson would rebound from an outing in Minnesota where he cruised through four innings before developing a blister that temporarily sapped his command. Instead, Anderson allowed eight earned runs on seven hits as his Blue Jays ERA climbed to 6.17.

“It was terrible,” Anderson said of the outing. “It wasn’t good by any stretch.”

Oddly enough, the left-hander said he had one of the five or 10 best warmup sessions he’s ever had before the game began. The ball felt fine leaving his hand, with no sign of a recurring blister. And yet that didn’t translate to success on the mound, though manager John Gibbons says he’s not about to read much into one poor outing.

On a day the Blue Jays solidified their starting rotation by extending Marco Estrada to a deal that promises to benefit both sides, Anderson’s start offered a reminder that the back of the Toronto rotation still needs attention. To be fair, that’s the norm around baseball, as few teams have five or more plug-and-play starters locked in for 2018. But, as GM Ross Atkins acknowledged Wednesday, “there’s much more work to be done.”

Leading up to Wednesday’s rough start, Blue Jays decision makers had often pointed to Anderson as a potential starting option next year. He’s 29 and left-handed, to begin with. He put it all together at the big-league level as recently as 2015. And, given his struggles this season, he could conceivably be available for something like $3 million in free agency (though he’s expected by some observers to command a big-money deal given the dearth of starting pitching available on the open market).

That price range could work for a Blue Jays team that enters the off-season in need of a corner outfielder, infield depth, bullpen reinforcements and a backup catcher. Even then, though, the Blue Jays would need to pursue additional rotation help given the uncertainty surrounding Joe Biagini’s performance and Aaron Sanchez’s right middle finger.

While left-handed pitching prospects Ryan Borucki and Thomas Pannone have advanced to the point that they could begin the 2018 season at triple-A, acquiring additional experienced arms would get the Blue Jays closer to their goal of entering the year with eight or nine capable big-league starters. Even after a rough outing Wednesday, Anderson could still be one of them.

But before the Blue Jays fully enter off-season mode, they’ve got games to play and on Wednesday, that meant asking the bullpen to record 23 outs. The ensuing parade of relievers didn’t do much better than Anderson, as Luis Santos allowed a two-run homer to Salvador Perez and Carlos Ramirez’s professional scoreless innings streak ended at 47.2 innings.

“It was bound to happen,” Gibbons said. “It was a heck of a feat.”

One of the four runs allowed by Ramirez came off the bat of Mike Moustakas, who now has sole possession of the Royals’ single-season franchise home run record after hitting his 37th of the year. The Blue Jays made some history of their own, passing the 3-million mark in attendance for the second consecutive season and the seventh time in franchise history.

Unfortunately for those in attendance, though, the Blue Jays offence didn’t provide much in the way of highlights. Teoscar Hernandez hit a two-run double after replacing Kevin Pillar in centre field and Raffy Lopez homered for the fourth time this year. Otherwise the Blue Jays bats were mostly quiet, unable to undo the damage allowed by the pitching staff.