Blue Jays need rotation to turn it around – and fast

Dallas Keuchel improved his record to 5-0 and the Houston Astros defeated the Toronto Blue Jays.

HOUSTON – There’s not much a team can do, even one with the offence the Toronto Blue Jays have, when its starting pitcher gives up seven runs in five innings the way R.A. Dickey did Friday night.

Try as they did to rally from a six-run deficit – putting up four on Dallas Keuchel is a pretty good night – there was no comeback to be in an 8-4 loss to the Houston Astros, the fourth setback in five outings on this rapidly deteriorating road trip.

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Sure they had chances at more, including a two-on, none-out rally in the seventh that fizzled out quickly, but really the rotation needs to start picking up its share of the load. The Blue Jays are an unfathomable 2-17 in games when they score four runs or less, and clearly that must improve for things to get better.

“The big thing is the rotation,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said before the game. “(Drew) Hutchison now, two starts in a row the stuff was good, he’s key for us … having him turn it around is very important for us. (Mark) Buehrle, R.A., all those guys, improvement from the rotation is going to ultimately lead to more wins.”

So far that hasn’t come in a significant enough fashion, although you would think that Hutchison (6.17), Buehrle (5.54) and Dickey (now up to 5.76) will each get their ERAs into the fours by season’s end. Marco Estrada has a chance to be a decent No. 5, while Aaron Sanchez might dominate if he manages to lock down his command.

But that’s a lot of could-be for mid-May, with the still-work-in-progress Daniel Norris the only real internal possibility for a significant in-season shot in the arm right now. Despite that, Anthopoulos argues the Blue Jays have all the pieces needed to make a big run.

“I think the rotation will get more consistency, I think the bullpen, other than (Thursday) night, was coming around and that was encouraging to see,” he said. “Offensively, as good as we’ve been, we’ve got potential to do better with (Edwin) Encarnacion hopefully getting hot, (Jose) Reyes coming back, even (Dioner) Navarro coming back for depth, those types of things. I do think we’re capable.”

Saying it is easy, of course, making it happen is much more complicated.

Dickey, at minimum, managed to end a two-start drought without a strikeout by collecting three whiffs against the Astros, but was still battered for seven runs on 10 hits – including a massive solo shot by George Springer in the third and a long three-run shot by Jose Altuve in the fourth that really opened things up – over his five frames.

It’s the third time this season he’s allowed six runs or more and fourth time he’s allowed multiple home runs. All the adjustments he’s tried to make so far haven’t taken, and when asked if he’s consulted with mentor Charlie Hough, Dickey replied: “Not recently, no, but it’s time.”

“I’m certainly going to reach out to Charlie and pick his brain, maybe try to get him some video to look at because the truth of the matter is I’m searching right now, I’m searching for answers,” continued Dickey. “I’m searching for consistency, and not necessarily consistent strikes, because I’m throwing a lot of strikes, it’s just consistent movement. I’m throwing knuckleballs that have too much spin on them.

“If a knuckleballer is throwing a ball that doesn’t spin, I’m throwing balls that spin too much and a 77 mile an hour ball that tumbles up there is going to get hit by big-league hitters. I’ve got to find a way to consistently take more spin off the baseball. It’s in me, I’m going to get after it (Saturday).”

The shame in Friday is that the Blue Jays for the first time in four games against Keuchel finally managed to get to the bearded lefty, scratching out a run in the third on Josh Donaldson’s infield single and then posting a three-spot in the sixth on Danny Valencia’s two-run double and Chris Colabello’s RBI single.

But Will Harris extinguished a potential rally in the seventh by striking out Donaldson, popping up Jose Bautista and striking out Edwin Encarnacion, and that was that.

“Keuchel is a great pitcher – we score four off him, we should win the game,” said Dickey. “That’s on me. Thankfully I’ve got about 25 starts left, that’s a lot of time to do a lot of good things.”

The challenge is that there are no easy answers or quick fixes for the Blue Jays with their rotation.

Anthopoulos said he doesn’t expect the trade market to open up “until after the draft, I think the earliest would be mid-June,” and made the point that “we need internal improvements from these guys” when asked about depth options at triple-A Buffalo.

A saving grace for the moment is that no one is running away with the American League East, buying the Blue Jays time to try and get their rotation straightened out. But the current stasis in the standings isn’t going to matter if they don’t start finding some solutions, and implementing them fast.

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