TORONTO – Drew Hutchison crossed the midway point of his 2014 season Wednesday night against the New York Yankees, and with 16 starts, 92.1 innings and an earned-run average of 4.00 already under his belt, he’s without doubt been a credit to the Toronto Blue Jays rotation.
Still, there are ups and downs to be endured employing a 23-year-old still scratching the surface of his abilities on a team leading the American League East, elements all on display in a 5-3 loss before 34,710 at Rogers Centre.
An outing of four runs allowed on seven hits and two walks is by no means terrible, but it was on the sometimes thin line between good and great where this one spun away just enough. All of the damage against him came during a four-run third, with three of the runs crossing with two outs, an outburst the Blue Jays never recovered from.
“It’s frustrating,” Hutchison said in an interview when asked to assess his season to this point “There have definitely been times where I think I’ve thrown the ball well and there have been times where I’ve been inconsistent. I just need to be better overall with my execution.”
In the process of dropping Wednesday’s finale, the Blue Jays (44-36) missed a chance to win three straight games against the Yankees (40-37) for the first time since 2007 and sweep a series of at least three games against them for the first time since taking four in a row May 22-25, 2003.
Sure there was some solace in winning a set for the first time in three weeks, but a sweep would have nicely reciprocated last week’s mess in the Bronx.
Hutchison only made it through 4.1 innings of a 6-4 loss in New York his last time out, and for a while looked to be touch and go to make it that far in this one. But a clean fourth inning, a clever escape from a two-on, one-out spot in the fifth and three swinging strikeouts in the sixth helped him pull through.
Yet the question remains, what can he do to be more consistent?
The difference in Hutchison’s home/road splits are glaring, as are the numbers when he pitches on normal rest versus when he gets an extra day or two, but the overriding issue is how to steady him on a start-by-start basis, regardless of where he is or when he last pitched.
Save for consecutive wins at Texas on May 16, when he threw a three-hit shutout, and at Boston on May 25, when he allowed one run in 5.2 innings of work, he’s generally alternated one start good, one start bad this season.
The Blue Jays, obviously, really need him to cluster a series of quality starts together.
"That’s the most frustrating part, when you go out and you dominate and come back and pitch terrible. It’s happened a few times this year and it’s extremely frustrating," said Hutchison. "It’s just execution.
"Like tonight, I come back to make the big pitch getting Derek Jeter (on strikes for the second out of the third), I put myself in a position to succeed, and then I just don’t get the job done. I throw a sinker that runs back over the plate (an RBI single by Jacoby Ellsbury) and then a hanging changeup (a two-run homer for Mark Teixeira), when I was one pitch away from getting a pop up and it’s a one-run inning.
"It’s the difference between being mediocre and really good – when you can consistently make a pitch."
Bridging that gap is the challenge, especially when it’s not one single issue causing the discrepancies.
"Sometimes it’s been in his delivery, his finish, not finishing pitches the way he needs to consistently, he gets out of his rhythm and there have been some games where his slider, his secondary stuff hasn’t been quite as good, his fastball command has been a little inconsistent at times," said pitching coach Pete Walker. "The games when he deals everything comes together, and the games when he struggles, like anybody, there’s something missing, something that he’s battling out there."
In some ways, that’s to be expected.
Hutchison has already made vast gains on the pitcher he was in 2012, when he made 11 starts before his elbow exploded, and the steadiness in his demeanour, competitiveness on the mound and stuff make for an appealing mix.
As Walker points out, "We know what the possibilities are with him."
Hutchison seems to realize them for himself, as well, which is why he never makes excuses and can be very hard on himself. Yet he’s also astute enough to understand just how far he’s come.
"There are times to take a step back and look at everything, but you need to never be satisfied. I don’t think I’ve pitched as well as I should have, know what I mean?" he said. "That obviously motivates me to be better every time I take the ball. At the same time, you can see the positive things you have accomplished to build off of. You can’t look at one without the other."
The same holds true for the Blue Jays.
Do they want to speed up Hutchison’s learning curve and gain more consistency from him? Absolutely. But another half like the one he just gave them, with the promise of so much more down the road, sure would be pretty good, too.