TORONTO – The offensive production that powered the Blue Jays to a seven-game win streak eluded them Saturday.
The Blue Jays would have needed near-perfect pitching on a day they scored just two runs, but the Tigers were able to do just enough damage against newly-minted All-Star Aaron Sanchez to build an early lead. Devon Travis tied the game with a solo home run in the seventh only to see Victor Martinez hit the game-winning homer off of Jason Grilli minutes later.
The Tigers held on to win 3-2, so the Blue Jays take a 50-40 record into the final game of the first half.
Though Sanchez held the Tigers to two runs in five innings, he wasn’t particularly sharp. He laboured through a pair of innings — a 31-pitch second and a 27-pitch fourth — before turning the game over to the bullpen. Sanchez, who was named to the AL All-Star team after the game, walked just two batters, but he hit a batter and missed Russell Martin’s targets more frequently than usual.
“I thought he was a little off today with his off-speed, particularly his breaking ball, but he held them in check,” manager John Gibbons said. “Pitching in the big leagues is not easy. I don’t care how good you are, how talented you are. Some days it comes down to gutting it out, battling, and that’s what he did today.
Still, Sanchez struck out four Tigers and finishes the first half with a 2.97 ERA and 118.1 innings pitches.
“I think he’s just scratching the surface,” Gibbons said. “I really do.”
The Tigers got an even better start from an unlikely but familiar source. Matt Boyd, one of three pitchers dealt to Detroit for David Price last July, was only announced as the Tigers’ starter after Friday’s game. He had been scheduled to start at triple-A Friday, but with the big league team in need of starters, he got the call despite having posted a 6.44 ERA in six MLB games this year. As Tigers manager Brad Ausmus acknowledged, the Tigers didn’t exactly have many alternatives.
Boyd responded well to the considerable challenge of facing the Blue Jays’ right-handed heavy lineup at Rogers Centre on short notice. The left-hander pitched five innings of one-run ball while striking out six.
A year ago this time the combination of Boyd, Daniel Norris and Jairo Labourt was enough to land David Price. That trade, along with the deal that sent Jeff Hoffman and Miguel Castro to Colorado for Troy Tulowitzki, depleted the upper levels of the Blue Jays’ farm system. While pitching prospects like Sean Reid-Foley, Conner Greene and Jon Harris still offer plenty of upside, they have yet to reach double-A. That same prospect inventory no longer exists in Buffalo or New Hampshire, as reflected by the Bisons’ recent purchase of right-hander Wilmer Font from the Ottawa Champions of the independent Can-Am League.
Regardless, the Blue Jays will need to pursue pitching with three weeks remaining before the non-waiver trade deadline. And while they don’t have Norris and Hoffman available in the upper minors anymore, they don’t need another Price.
More modest rotation reinforcements should be enough given that the Blue Jays’ rotation ranks second behind the Indians with a 3.66 ERA. The bullpen could use another right-handed setup type, but if recent trades for Fernando Rodney and Brad Ziegler accurately reflect the market, the acquisition price shouldn’t prohibit the Blue Jays from adding relief.
In all likelihood those decisions will take place after the All-Star break. In the meantime, the Blue Jays have one more game to play. As it turns out, so does Sanchez.