Blue Jays squander first chance for course correction

Nick Ashbourne
Jose Bautista was among a number of Blue Jays hitters who couldn’t come through on Tuesday, now the team is off to a franchise-worst 1-6 start. (Nathan Denette/CP)

After a 1-5 start to the season, the Toronto Blue Jays were given every opportunity to find their footing on Tuesday.

Sure, Josh Donaldson was out of the lineup, but they were facing a Milwaukee Brewers squad virtually devoid of playoff aspirations – and a starter in Wily Peralta with a lengthy track record of throwing hard and doing little else well. Returning home also didn’t hurt for a team that went 46-35 at Rogers Centre last year.

Even so, the Blue Jays fell 4-3 in a three-and-a-half hour home opener that dragged like a playoff contest, but lacked the intensity or tactical intricacy. Now they sit at 1-6, off to the worst start in franchise history- something that’s not lost on the players.

“We’re just not playing well enough to play games,” J.A. Happ – who allowed four earned runs over 4.2 innings – said following the loss. “We’re going to come tomorrow and 154 games after that and we’re going to have to change that. Unfortunately that means we’re going to have to put a couple of really good weeks together.”

Troy Tulowitzki, who drove in all three of the Blue Jays’ runs, had a more accelerated timeline for getting the team back on track.

“We can put five games together,” he said. “Since I’ve been here we’ve been able to get hot and run off good stretches.”

The Blue Jays brought a couple of concrete concerns into this contest and could do little to put them to rest. The lineup had been frigid and the bullpen overworked. The former managed just five hits and scratched across three runs. It looked lifeless outside of the night’s dynamic duo of Tulowitzki and Kendrys Morales who went 5-for-7. The rest of the lineup managed to go 0-for-24.

That duo entered action hitting 8-for-48, so it was encouraging for the Blue Jays to see some sizzle there, but there’s no such thing as an effective two-man lineup. Russell Martin couldn’t crack his goose egg, Jose Bautista continued to swing through pitches, and even a ninth-inning cameo from Donaldson couldn’t change the Blue Jays’ fortunes.

Not only did the general hitting malaise linger, the specific woe of not bringing in runners also continued. The Blue Jays didn’t often reside on base, but when they did the proverbial “big hit” was elusive as the team went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position.

“We’re not hitting right now, but we’re going to hit,” said manager John Gibbons. “There’s no question in my mind. We’ll wash this one off and come back and hopefully get it going tomorrow. But it’s just a matter of time there’s no doubt in my mind.”

From a bullpen standpoint, the combination of Dominic Leone, Joe Smith, Joe Biagini and Jason Grilli and the returning Roberto Osuna pitched well, but they were also asked to pitch 4.1 innings. While the performance was admirable – and kept the Blue Jays in the game – what it didn’t do was help a tired unit regroup. The Blue Jays could have used seven innings from Happ and he wasn’t able to give them five.

The southpaw put in a perplexing performance where he simultaneously got knocked around by Brewers hitters and cut them down with ease. It’s hard to draw a positive from allowing nine hits in less than five innings including two loud home runs. Alternatively, that fact he rung up seven Milwaukee batters to bring his K/BB to an improbable 17/0 on the season is undoubtedly intriguing.

Gibbons saw an outing where his starter fought command issues, but still kept things close.

“He pitched good enough to win, those guys aren’t going to be pin-point perfect every time they go out there though,” he said. “But he really battled and got some big strikeouts and the long ball got him a couple [times].”

While the Happ’s night wasn’t impressive, he didn’t add himself to the Blue Jays growing list of troubles. A guy running a 1.80 xFIP gets the benefit of the doubt, and two starts in he hasn’t invited any serious concern with his performance.

Tuesday night’s game was supposed to be a soothing tonic to wash away the Blue Jays early-season ills. Instead, it simply served to highlight everything that was already going wrong for the club.

It’s far too early to panic about this team, but this is certainly a squad that’s ventured off course a touch – and they just blew their first opportunity to right the ship.