Blue Jays loss to Twins underscores need for pitching

The Twins toppled the Blue Jays 8-3 to end a three-game losing skid.

TORONTO – By the fifth inning, the scoreboard read 8-1 in favour of the visitors. Already, it was apparent that bullpen day hadn’t worked out so well for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Then, an announcement over the press box loudspeaker – a reminder of how far this season has diverged from where it was supposed to go.

“Now warming in the Blue Jays bullpen, No. 57, Jaime Garcia.”

No, when the Blue Jays signed Garcia to a one-year, $10-million deal this spring, they weren’t expecting this. They envisioned him as a solid starter, someone capable of posting a league-average ERA over 150-plus innings, the way he did the previous season. At the time, the signing was entirely reasonable; it just hasn’t worked out.

Now, Garcia’s the sixth reliever out of the bullpen on a day the Blue Jays had to piece things together because Marco Estrada needs more time to rehab from the glute strain that has sidelined him since July 10. If Estrada’s triple-A rehab start goes well Tuesday, he could return to the rotation for his next turn, but in the meantime, the Blue Jays are mixing and matching.

On Monday, that meant calling on Garcia for mop-up duty. He actually pitched quite well, striking out three of the hitters he faced and retiring all six others.

“That’s as good and under control as I think I’ve seen him this year,” manager John Gibbons said. “Really relaxed and everything was smooth … we like what we saw, that’s for sure.”

It was Garcia’s best outing since June 7. Really, though, that’s not the point. This game underscored a more important reality facing the Blue Jays: they don’t have enough quality pitching. That need will become even more pronounced once the Blue Jays trade J.A. Happ and some of their veteran relievers later this month, especially without a clear timeline for Aaron Sanchez’s return from the DL.

All told, the combination of Luis Santos, Tim Mayza, Aaron Loup, Joe Biagini, Jake Petricka and Garcia allowed eight runs on 13 hits against a Twins team that began the day 18th among the 30 MLB teams in runs scored. The verdict on bullpen day?

“Well,” said Gibbons, “It didn’t work too well. At the big-league level you never want to have to do that, but sometimes you have to.”

Relief appearances represent a different kind of challenge for Garcia, who has started 187 of the 200 career games in which he has appeared.

He says he’s up to the task.

“I’m here to get people out when they need me to get people out at any time,” he said. “I’m like ‘dude, treat me like everybody else.’ I’m mentally ready to go for whatever you need me to do, literally. I want to help this team in any way they need me.”

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At this point, the Blue Jays prefer using Garcia out of the bullpen, and that’s understandable given that he posted a 6.16 ERA out of the rotation. For at least one night, that created an opportunity for Santos to start.

The Twins opened the scoring against Santos, but not without an assist from Teoscar Hernandez, who turned an Eduardo Escobar single into an RBI triple with an ill-timed dive in left field.

Later, Minnesota did more significant damage against Mayza (four runs allowed, four outs recorded) and Biagini (three runs allowed, three outs recorded). Both Petricka and Garcia pitched well, but by the time they entered, the game was well out of hand.

As Gibbons said, “Hopefully we don’t have to do too many of those.”

Offensively, the Blue Jays didn’t fare much better. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. continued to impress at the plate with a home run, a walk and a single. On the season, he’s hitting .288/.311/.441, good for an above-average 104 wRC+.

Beyond that solo home run, however, the Blue Jays managed little offensively against Minnesota. Justin Smoak picked up three hits and Devon Travis added two singles as the Blue Jays lost 8-3 and fell to 46-53 on the season.

Ryan Borucki starts for the Blue Jays Tuesday, and based on his big-league career to date, there’s reason to believe he’ll fare better than his teammates. Still, days like Monday offer a reminder that they really do need more pitching, 10-man bullpen or not.

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