Blue Jays fall to Angels in unusual, plodding bullpen battle royale

Aaron Sanchez left the game with a finger contusion and the Toronto Blue Jays lost to the Los Angeles Angels.

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Aaron Sanchez lasted only one inning for the Toronto Blue Jays due to a contusion on his right index finger, which was better than Tyler Skaggs, the Los Angeles Angels starter scratched four hours before the game due to right hamstring tightness.

As a result, Friday’s series opener at Angel Stadium devolved into a plodding bullpen battle royale, where the numbers went haywire on John Gibbons. In 53 plate appearances against left-handed batters this season, John Axford had a .338 OPS against and hadn’t allowed a single homer. Then he allowed two of them in two innings of work, one by Kole Calhoun — who was carrying a .403 OPS at the time — turning a 3-2 lead into a 6-3 deficit.

Sometimes baseball can really crush your soul.

By the time all was said and done, career game No. 1,000 for Mike Trout — who walked three times, grounded out and struck out on three pitches against Seung-hwan Oh — ended as an 8-5 victory for the Angels. And after needing five relievers to cover eight innings of work, the Blue Jays may very well need to make adjustments to keep themselves covered Friday.

“We took the lead but that’s one of those that when (the starter) goes out in that first inning, any blip is probably going to cost you because you have to overextend some guys a little bit,” said Gibbons. “They got a couple of big homers off Ax — he’s been dominating lefties all year and two lefties got him today. We hung around but we just couldn’t get anything going late.”

Home runs by Randal Grichuk, chosen 24th overall in the 2009 draft by the Angels — one spot ahead of Trout — Lourdes Gurriel Jr., pushing to avoid a demotion back to triple-A Buffalo with roster moves looming, and Kendrys Morales paced the Blue Jays offence in an unusual ballgame.

Of prime concern for the Blue Jays is Sanchez, who said he jammed his index finger causing bruising around the middle knuckle and led to increasing pain the more he threw the ball. X-rays were negative and he’s hopeful not to miss a start, but everything will be up in the air until swelling in the area calms down.

“When it first happened I kind of just shook my hand and said, ‘Ow.’ I didn’t really think anything of it. I kept the motion going. I pulled on it just in case it did get jammed. I wanted to make sure I kept that motion and not have swelling creeping in there right away,” said Sanchez. “As the day kind of went on, it got worse. When I got here, I showed everybody and they put ice on it right away. I still wanted to pitch. It’s a big day for me. Coming back home and getting to pitch in front of my friends and family. That part sucks. But what are you going to do?

“I’ll get whatever I need to get done on it and I’ll come back out there in five days.”

The right-hander, a native of Barstow, Calif., which is 160 kilometres away, strung together three strong starts after getting whacked for seven runs in five innings at Boston on May 28, but was off from the jump Thursday. He walked Trout, surrendered a double to Justin Upton, unleashed a wild pitch that scored one run and served up a laser RBI single to Albert Pujols, after which Sanchez was examining his finger.

He didn’t throw a single curveball among his 24 pitches, but his fastball averaged 94.7 m.p.h., right in line with his season averaged, and he topped out at 95.8.

“It just kind of hurt to grip,” said Sanchez, who replied that it’s not important when asked how he jammed the finger. “The more and more I threw, limited motion, through that gripping range and there was no way I could have made it (back) out there. If it messes something else up, it’s not worth it. It sucks for me because I felt like I was kind of getting into my own and making strides in the right direction and then bang. One of those freak things.”

The Blue Jays quickly worked themselves out of the 2-0 hole against Jake Lamb and his hair-band flow. Doubles by Morales and Aledmys Diaz in the second got them on the board, Justin Smoak’s RBI double in the third tied the game up and Grichuk’s eighth of the season provided a 3-2 lead.

Then came the against-the-percentages homers by Calhoun in the fourth — a leaping Kevin Pillar got a piece of it in centre, but not enough — and Luis Valbuena in the fifth.

The clubs traded runs from there — a Martin Maldonado RBI double in the sixth and Valbuena solo shot in the seventh for the Angels; solo shots by Gurriel in the seventh and Morales in the eighth for the Blue Jays — to close things out.

By keeping Trout hitless, the Blue Jays lowered his batting average over the past nine games to .640 (16-for-25), although he did enjoy a fourth straight game with two or more walks, and has now reached base in 32 of last 42 plate appearances for a .756 OBP. So, not a bad way to celebrate 1,000 games.

“It’s gone by so fast,” said Trout. “People ask me about it, it seems like yesterday I got drafted. My time up here, I’m really enjoying it, I have fun coming to the ballpark. Obviously there’s been ups and downs, but I still come to the park ready to go every day.”

One thing he shared in common with Sanchez on Thursday was a troubled right index finger that makes throwing so painful, he was limited to DH duties.

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