Blue Jays Takeaways: Pitching staff rocked in ugly loss

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Joe Biagini, facing camera, is pulled in the second inning of a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017, in Minneapolis. (Jim Mone/AP)

Generally, when your starting pitcher lasts only 1.1 innings, something has gone awfully awry. That was the case for Joe Biagini and the Toronto Blue Jays Sunday, as the Minnesota Twins sent them out of town with a 13-7 drubbing at the end of a four-game series split.

Despite getting out to a 5-0 lead, the Blue Jays never so much as threatened the Twins from the second inning on. Minnesota retired 14 consecutive Toronto hitters at one point before Ezequiel Carrera snapped the skid with a seventh-inning double.

But this game was lost thanks to Toronto’s pitching, which gave up 16 hits and walked four while using seven arms to get through eight innings. That’s a pretty rough day and it began with the continually mystifying Biagini.

Biagini struggles

Biagini simply did not have it Sunday afternoon, allowing six runs (four earned) on five hits and a walk. He worked a three-up, three-down first on only eight pitches, but he surrendered back-to-back solo shots to open the second and matters only got worse from there. By the time Blue Jays manager John Gibbons emerged from the dugout to lift Biagini from the game, the right-hander had thrown 33 pitches in the inning.

Biagini has been alternating between strong and poor performances over his last five starts, which must be a maddening trend for him and his coaching staff. There are days like Sunday when the 27-year-old can’t get anything to work on the mound. And there are days like last Tuesday when he threw eight innings of two-run ball against the Baltimore Orioles. Finding consistency over his final starts this season will be crucial for Biagini as the Blue Jays continue to evaluate whether he best helps the team as a starter or a reliever.

Date Opponent IP H ER BB SO
22-Aug Pawtucket (AAA) 7 5 2 0 5
27-Aug Minnesota 3.2 9 5 3 4
01-Sep Baltimore 7 5 0 1 10
06-Sep Boston 3.1 6 5 3 2
12-Sep Baltimore 8 6 2 0 2
17-Sep Minnesota 1.2 5 4 1 0

Rowley’s rough go

Sunday’s game went from bad to ugly for the Blue Jays in the fifth, when Chris Rowley took the ball and had the inning of his nightmares. Making his first appearance since Sept. 5, Rowley allowed six runs on six hits and a walk, the bulk of the damage being done by Joe Mauer, who somehow got his barrel to an 0-2 fastball in and off the plate and drove it 398 feet to right for a grand slam.

Eddie Rosario homered a batter later before Rowley finally got out of it, striking out Eduardo Escobar with his 34th pitch of the inning. It wasn’t pretty but you don’t want to read too much into one poor relief appearance from a pitcher who hadn’t been in a game in nearly two weeks and spent the bulk of his season as a starter. Still, Rowley is competing to show the Blue Jays he can be a contributor in 2018, and a six-run inning isn’t the way he wants to do that.

Donaldson keeps raking

So, Josh Donaldson’s pretty locked in. He hit an absolute rocket of a home run off Twins starter Kyle Gibson in the first inning, crushing a 1-0 fastball on the plate 481 feet to left. And he hit another in the second, this time pulling his hands in to turn around a 94-m.p.h. fastball that would have been a ball if he’d taken it.

That gave Donaldson 30 homers on the season and five in his last 10 at-bats. It continued a remarkable turnaround for one of the game’s most talented hitters, who missed extended time due to injury earlier this season and was batting .236/.356/.422 with nine home runs on July 22 after his first 236 plate appearances of the season.

Donaldson’s absolutely gone off since and is now hitting .269/.392/.559 with 30 bombs less than 60 days later. He’s hit 19 home runs since the beginning of August and it’s not hard to imagine him earning top-10 MVP votes for the fifth consecutive season if he keeps this up.

Simply put: he’s the best baseball player the Blue Jays have. And his future with the team is about to become a very intriguing topic of conversation as he enters his final round of arbitration this winter ahead of his pending free agency after the 2018 season.

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