Blue Jays see benefits of playing tight games

April 14, 2014, 9:02 AM

BALTIMORE – The Toronto Blue Jays are off Monday and they are certainly feeling much better about things after taking two of three from the Orioles in Baltimore.

While Sunday’s 11-3 win finished in a decidedly one-sided fashion, things were tight until a five-run sixth – their most productive inning of the season – cracked things open. Blue Jays pitchers have had to pitch with minimal margin for error pretty much all season, and I asked Mark Buehrle what the cumulative effect of that might be.

“Hopefully it’s a good effect,” he said. “I think anybody wants a good lead and realize you can make a mistake, because you’re not going to go all game without making a mistake. If you can go get some runs early, you realize that if you do make a mistake and they make you pay for it it’s not going to cost you the game. This offence, they’ve struggled early on and we know what they can do if everybody’s healthy, we get Reyes back coming up, so I think we’re going to be all right.”

Added manager John Gibbons: “There’s something to pitching in those games, you get used to it, and it gives you that edge a little bit. A lot of times, pitchers will run into trouble when there’s less pressure on them out there, they relax a little bit and they’re not quite as effective.

Colby Rasmus is one of several Blue Jays to emerge from the weekend in a better place at the plate. On Saturday he turned around a 98 m.p.h. fastball from Tommy Hunter in the ninth inning for a game-tying solo blast, while Sunday he opened the scoring with a solo shot onto Eutaw Street and added a two-run single that popped things open.

Throughout his struggles the past two weeks, he didn’t get down on himself the way he sometimes does and “I feel like that’s part of the reason I got out of it more quickly than I have in the past, I didn’t let it bother me. I kept focusing on trying to find a different approach or make adjustments to what I needed to be doing, and have faith that it’s going to come around.”

When I asked him about the entire lineup feeling pressure because of how hard it’s been to come across runs, he replied: “Everybody’s trying and I think sometimes we forget how hard this game is, and how hard it can be some days. At the beginning of the season we started out with some good pitching, we got David Price the first night, I think that’s where it comes down to relaxing and knowing what we got to do, everybody making their little adjustments they need to make, and knowing that it will turn around. We’ve got to do little things every day, come in and do your part, and if everybody can do that we’ll be fine when all things are said and done.”

Rasmus left Sunday’s game in the sixth inning after he felt a tug in his hamstring while chasing down a Nick Markakis liner. He doesn’t think it’s a big deal.

“Just to make sure it’s nothing big and we’ve got an off day, and we were up in the game,” said Rasmus, “I decided to come out just to make sure everything’s good.”

Edwin Encarnacion picked up his first two RBIs of the season on a double in the sixth inning, ending a 12-game drought to start the season. While he identified his timing at the plate as the primary issue, opposing pitchers “have been pitching me different than the last couple of years. They want to make adjustments on me so I have to make my adjustment. They’ve been throwing a lot of pitches outside, and sometimes I tried to go to right field and that’s not my approach. I have to be selective with the pitches I want to hit, not the pitches they want me to hit. That’s the No. 1 thing I did (Sunday) and it helped me.”

As important as the offensive outburst was, the Blue Jays defence also deserves props for Sunday’s win. Without a brilliant diving stab of a Jonathan Schoop grounder down the third-base line by Brett Lawrie, and Colby Rasmus chasing down a Nick Markakis drive right after, things may have been very different.

That’s why even as he’s struggled, Lawrie’s defence has helped win games.

“I expect that out of myself,” he said. “When I got out there every day I try to say hit it by me. When I do that, it’s intentional, I meant to do it. Every time I go out there I just try and say hit it by me and try to keep Mark in the game as long as we can, because I know the ball is going to be coming in hot all day.”

Maicer Izturis’ knee injury and J.A. Happ’s return led to a couple of roster moves. The Blue Jays will certainly miss Erik Kratz and the power in his right-handed bat off the bench, and you have to feel for him as someone who deserves a roster spot but doesn’t have one. They’re running with an eight-man bullpen again, for now.

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