TORONTO — Edwin Encarnacion’s three-run double made the difference for the Toronto Blue Jays Monday afternoon at Rogers Centre. The first baseman lined a ball off the left-field wall with two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh inning to break a 3-3 tie and give the Blue Jays a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“I put it in my mind to go aggressive and look for a pitch I could make a good swing on,” Encarnacion said.
The Blue Jays, now 18-26, had loaded the bases for Encarnacion when reliever Josh Lueke walked Emilio Bonifacio, Munenori Kawasaki and Jose Bautista. All three runners scored on the double, which proved to be the decisive hit in a 7-5 Blue Jays win.
“It was just a good win all around,” third baseman Brett Lawrie said. “Eddie with the big hit for us with two outs there. That got the game right there pretty much.”
R.A. Dickey pitched effectively for eight innings, holding the Rays to three runs, only two of which were earned. The knuckleballer said after the game that walks have inflated his pitch counts unnecessarily of late.
“I’ve felt like I’ve been stuck in a quagmire for the last week, two weeks, so it’s nice to feel like you get one foot out of it.”
Dickey allowed four hits and four walks while striking out five. He’s still looking for consistency with his primary pitch.
“The knuckleball can be a very capricious animal,” he said. “It’s there one batter and then it kind of goes away. I mean you can throw great ones and they’re just not strikes. I had big movement today and four hits (allowed) is probably indicative of good movement, but it’s still tougher when the velocity’s a little bit lower.”
Casey Janssen pitched the ninth inning for the Blue Jays, allowing two runs to score in his first appearance since May 11. Janssen allowed a home run to former Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar and walked Matt Joyce in an uncharacteristically shaky outing.
Right-hander Jake Odorizzi made his Rays debut in place of injured starter David Price. Odorizzi, a major piece in the trade that sent James Shields to the Kansas City Royals, looked strong, allowing three earned runs in five innings while striking out five.
“He knows what he’s doing out there,” said Toronto manager John Gibbons, who was in the Royals organization at the same time as Odorizzi. “He’s got a chance to be a good one.”
THE BATS: The Blue Jays opened the scoring with two runs in the first inning. Melky Cabrera and Encarnacion singled, putting runners on the corners with one out. Adam Lind drove in the game’s first run when a 12-pitch plate appearance ended with a sacrifice fly. One batter later Lawrie tripled in Encarnacion to make it 2-0.
The Blue Jays took a 3-0 lead in the second inning on doubles by Henry Blanco and Cabrera, but their three-run advantage didn’t last long thanks to Evan Longoria. The hot-hitting third baseman scored after leading off the second inning with a single, then doubled home two runs the following inning.
The Blue Jays start Blanco when Dickey pitches because the veteran backstop is viewed as the club’s best receiver of the knuckleball. That’s not quite the way it worked out Monday, as Blanco allowed two passed balls on defence. He made up for it on offence, contributing a double and two walks.
THE ARMS: Dickey pitched eight strong innings before handing over the ball to Janssen, who allowed Escobar’s two-run home run. Dickey recorded a quality start for the third consecutive time.
“He’s on a nice little roll,” Gibbons said. “If you look at the way he pitches, he usually gets stronger as the game goes on and finds that groove.”
Dickey said he liked pitching with the Rogers Centre dome open and that it should be a non-issue going forward.
“R.A. pitched magnificent today,” Lawrie said. “He got outs, got us in the dugout, allowed us to do our jobs and put runs on the board.”
GOSE DEBUTS: Anthony Gose made his season debut as a late-game defensive replacement for Cabrera in left field. Gibbons said before Monday’s game that the organization’s decision makers believe Gose has lots of long-term value, even though he’ll be a bench player for now.
“We’re really high on him. We think he’s got future here,” Gibbons said.
Gose flied out to left field in his first plate appearance of the season. The manager said after the game that he inserted Gose into the contest for defensive reasons.
“He’s one of the better outfielders around,” Gibbons said.
ESCOBAR RETURNS: Escobar was greeted with steady boos in his first appearance at Rogers Centre since being traded last November. He hit a two-run home run in the ninth inning to make the score 7-5. Escobar extended his arms to his sides when he crossed home plate, but Janssen said after the game that he wasn’t taking the forceful gesture personally.
“I didn’t see it,” he said. “I don’t think he was doing anything directed at me.”
Earlier in the game Escobar made a throwing error, allowing Encarnacion to advance two bases.
The Blue Jays traded Escobar to Miami after a disappointing season that reached a low point when the shortstop wrote a homophobic slur on his eye-black.
INJURY UPDATES: Dickey, who dealt with neck and back pain earlier in the season, indicated that he’s not pitching at full strength.
“I’m not going to say I feel great. I’ve had a few maladies over the season and I’m hopeful to continue to progress, but I’m not all the way there quite yet,” Dickey said.
The Blue Jays’ closer isn’t perfectly healthy, either. The team continues monitoring Janssen’s workload since his pitching shoulder isn’t yet at full strength.
“I don’t think it’s getting any better,” Janssen said. “Definitely not worse. It’s just the progress isn’t gaining.”
The right-hander said he worked some kinks out against the Rays and expects to feel strong for Tuesday’s game.
Gibbons suggested that right-hander Josh Johnson will pitch approximately three innings and 45-50 pitches in his first rehab start with the Dunedin Blue Jays Monday night. Johnson, who is not a candidate to start against the Baltimore Orioles Friday, is recovering from a triceps injury.
Shortstop Jose Reyes played catch on the field before Monday’s game. The injured shortstop must successfully run the bases and complete a minor league rehab assignment before returning to the big-league roster.
WHERE THINGS STAND: The Blue Jays are now 18-26 after defeating the Rays in front of 29,885 on Victoria Day. Meanwhile, the Rays fall to 23-21.
The teams play again Tuesday when Alex Cobb faces Ramon Ortiz in the second game of the three-game series. Ortiz, who turns 40 Thursday, has pitched well in a pair of starts for the Blue Jays, allowing two earned runs in 12 innings.
Cobb has turned quality starts six of the eight times he has pitched this year. The 25-year-old right-hander has a 2.89 ERA through 53 innings.
NOTES: On pleasant days like Monday, the Blue Jays will play with the roof open regardless of the preferences of their starting pitchers … Second base umpire CB Bucknor clearly missed a call when he said Blanco slid into second base safely in the second inning … Gibbons put Lind in the cleanup spot because of his recent production.