TORONTO – No doubt, getting hammered in the opening game of an intriguing but by no means crucial series – June just arrived, after all – was suboptimal for the Toronto Blue Jays. And yes, the New York Yankees continue to impress, from the worth-the-price-of-admission display Aaron Judge put on during batting practice to the pair of 110-m.p.h.-plus laser beams Gary Sanchez parked in the second deck to the ongoing craftiness of CC Sabathia on the mound.
Still, the matter of primary importance to the Blue Jays in the wake of Thursday night’s 12-2 beatdown is their acute need for more innings from the rotation after Marco Estrada made it through only 3.2 frames. Over the past three games, their starters have covered only 13 of 27 innings and with Francisco Liriano returning from the disabled list Friday and Joe Biagini going Saturday, manager John Gibbons can’t be sure what he’s going to get in the next couple of days.
Up-for-a-day right-hander Leonel Campos made an important contribution in covering three frames on 48 pitches – a Darwin Barney error with two out in the seventh kept him from a clean line, leading to two unearned runs. But he’ll be optioned Friday to make room for Liriano – “Campos did a great job, problem is he earned himself a demotion,” Gibbons said – and the Blue Jays will be back running a seven-man bullpen with no roster-bubble position players with options they could send down to add an arm if needed.
So Liriano and Biagini are going to need to keep a relentless Yankees lineup at bay far more effectively than Estrada did Thursday to not only give the Blue Jays a chance to win, but for the sake of the bullpen, too. They won’t have an off-day until next Thursday, either, so no respite is coming.
“I got hit around a bunch, I didn’t make any good pitches, it just wasn’t there,” lamented Estrada. “But I’m more upset about having the bullpen pick up all those innings. It’s my job to go deep into these games, regardless of how many runs I give up. The guys did a good job coming in behind me, Campos had a really good outing, I’m happy for him. Just a tough game.”
Estrada was coming off consecutive dominant outings – allowing two runs over 13.2 innings with 20 strikeouts – but faced just 22 batters against the Yankees, nine of them putting balls in play at 99.8 m.p.h. or higher, three of them right out of the gate.
Brett Gardner opened the game with a double at 101.2 m.p.h., Sanchez followed with a laser to centre caught by Kevin Pillar at 100.2 and Judge delivered a base hit at 104.8 m.p.h. Yet things didn’t really unravel until Matt Holliday’s grounder to the 3-4 hole eluded a sliding Barney to put two men on and hard-to-walk Starlin Castro walked on four pitches.
“When they’re down I get swings and misses, when they’re up like that, they get hit a long way. That’s basically what happened,” Estrada said of the change-up, adding later: “It might be one of the easiest pitches to hit when it’s not down. I wasn’t really hitting my spots. Didn’t really use my fastball that well, either.”
Sanchez, who homered twice against Estrada last Aug. 16 at Yankee Stadium, picked right up again versus the right-hander by turning on a 78.2 m.p.h. change-up and sending it to the second deck at 113.2 m.p.h. for a solo shot in the second. Then in the fourth, after a two-out single by Gardner kept the inning alive, he hit nearly the same pitch, this time a change at 77.5 m.p.h., to nearly the same spot at 111.6 m.p.h.
“That’s basically what he did to me last time at their place, I missed two change-ups and he crushed those,” Estrada said of Sanchez, who is 4-for-8 against him. “I’ve just got to stop missing change-ups to him because he can hit them obviously.”
That made it 9-0 and after Estrada walked Judge, his night was over, his inconsistent change-up resulting both in nine swinging strikes and several rockets off the bat, Gibbons unable to extend him longer.
“I thought it just wasn’t his night and that’s rare – I can’t remember the last time we saw an outing like that,” said Gibbons. “No use leaving him out there abusing him, he’s done too much for us. …
“He was just off.”
The Blue Jays offence, not facing the good hitting offered up by the Cincinnati Reds during a three-game sweep earlier this week, managed only five hits off Sabathia, one of them a Kendrys Morales wallop over the wall in centre field leading off the seventh, one of the few thrills for a crowd of 37,722.
Sabathia, rocked for six runs in four innings versus the Blue Jays on May 3 in New York, struck out the next batter, Justin Smoak, before leaving the game. He struck out seven and didn’t walk a batter.
Chad Green took over and despite rocking an eight-man bullpen, Yankees manager Joe Girardi let the right-hander close things out from there, leaving himself several fresh relievers behind Friday starter Michael Pineda, a luxury for the Blue Jays to envy.