SEATTLE – Drew Hutchison deserves some latitude given how sick he’s been the past few days, and it’s obvious he didn’t take the mound at his physical best Saturday afternoon. Pitching under such circumstances is by no means easy.
Still, his continuing inability to consistently get deep into games – he’s reached the sixth just once in his past eight starts – is a growing concern for the Toronto Blue Jays, who only got four innings from their 24-year-old right-hander before rallying past the Seattle Mariners 8-6 on Saturday afternoon.
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Hutchison left his team in a 6-3 hole thanks to Robinson Cano’s two-out, three-run homer in the fourth, but the offence, which squandered an early chance to blow things open, chipped away on a Jose Reyes RBI double in the sixth and pinch-hitter Ezequiel Carrera’s two-run shot in the eighth before winning it in the ninth.
“I do control that, but I don’t necessarily look at what number of innings he pitches, I look at how he’s pitching, and if he is good, then we’ve seen him get late into games a number of times in his career,” manager John Gibbons said of Hutchison. “Yeah, (the short outings) can take a toll on you, but we need him good overall, even if it’s a good five innings with the way we think our bullpen is going to shape up. It does have an after-effect if it happens too often, but we just need him to start pitching better on the road.
“It’s got to be between his ears because he’s a totally different guy at home, it’s just something he’s got to overcome.”
The Blue Jays overcame the Mariners at Safeco Field for the first time since Aug. 6, 2013 when a Josh Donaldson walk and Jose Bautista double opened the ninth off Carson Smith and set up the decisive outburst.
After an intentional walk to Edwin Encarnacion, Chris Colabello pushed a grounder up the middle through a drawn-in infield to plate a pair, the heavy Canadian presence in the crowd of 45,027 erupting.
“More than anything else with the infield in, I’m really trying to commit to going the other way, staying in the middle of the field,” said Colabello. “With a sinkerball guy, as much as that was my approach, I still ended up getting on top of that ball, but good things happen in the middle of the field. In an ideal world I hit that ball in the air toward a gap, but thankfully I hit it hard enough to get it through.”
Roberto Osuna took care of business in the bottom of the ninth for his fifth save, while Aaron Sanchez, just back from the DL, delivered a scoreless eighth for the win.
The rally pushed the Blue Jays back over .500 at 50-49, and the club will start Mark Buehrle against Taijuan Walker in Sunday’s finale with a chance to win a second straight series and complete a six-game West Coast swing at 4-2.
At a time when teams need to start making their move in the standings, that’s the outcome the Blue Jays really need.
“Any win is a good one, obviously, but they’re always a little bit sweeter when you’re able to grind it out,” said Colabello. “Today was a grinder day, the game was three and a half hours, obviously Hutch was out there battling for us, but they’re character wins whenever you come from behind halfway through the game.”
Hutchison continued to struggle on the road, in contrast to his success at home, and nearly buried his team in this one by allowing runs in each of his four innings. In 11 road starts, his earned-run average is now up to 9.00 in 51 innings, in contrast to the 7-1 mark and 2.21 ERA he’s posted over 57 frames in nine home outings, an issue that remains a mystery the Blue Jays can’t solve.
He took the mound in this one after initially being slated to start Thursday’s finale in Oakland, getting pushed back twice because of flu-like symptoms.
“I was out there competing, I need to give us a great chance to win regardless of anything else,” he said of pitching through illness. “I was extremely lucky for the team to win in spite of the way I performed.”
The key blow came in the fourth, frustratingly right after he recorded two quick outs and looked headed for his first three-up, three-down inning of the day. Instead, Kyle Seager ripped a single, Nelson Cruz got hit by a pitch and Cano poked a 1-0 heater over the wall in left to break a 3-3 tie.
“I didn’t think it was a terrible pitch (to Cano),” said Hutchison. “But to put yourself in that position to get hurt for a three-run home run after having 1-2 on Seager and then getting in a bit of a battle and then losing that, and then hitting the next guy to put yourself in that situation, is unacceptable.”
The offence could have eased some pressure on him early, missing an opportunity in the second to break things open against an erratic and painfully slow working J.A. Happ.
The lefty needed only nine pitches in a clean first but didn’t survive a 43-pitch second, in which he allowed a Danny Valencia RBI single and bases-loaded walks to both Devon Travis and Donaldson. But the big blow needed to break things open didn’t come, Vidal Nuno eventually striking out Bautista to contain the damage.
But the Mariners bullpen couldn’t lock things down, Carrera ending an 0-for-11 streak by turning on a 3-2 heater from Fernando Rodney to knot things up 6-6 in the eighth.
“He happened to throw a fastball over the plate and I put a good swing on it,” Carrera said through third-base coach Luis Rivera.
Liam Hendriks, Brett Cecil, Sanchez and Osuna did lock things down, their relief work and the late offensive outburst ensuring the Blue Jays enjoyed a happy ending, even if that can’t negate concerns about the way this one started.