Sports

Blue Jays labour in loss to Yankees

By Steve Buffery, Toronto Sun

Pitcher R.A. Dickey #43 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch in the first inning against the New York Yankees during a game at Yankee Stadium on September 5, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Pitcher R.A. Dickey #43 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch in the first inning against the New York Yankees during a game at Yankee Stadium on September 5, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

NEW YORK - 

The Blue Jays' highly-touted rotation, which has cruised through most of the season, has hit a rather significant pot hole.

On Monday, for the fourth game in a row, the Jays’ starter failed to pick up a win. Not since Aaron Sanchez in Baltimore last Wednesday has a Toronto starter put together a really solid outing, which is a concern, given that the rotation has been the club’s strength all season with the offence and bullpen inconsistent. R.A Dickey was the latest starter to struggle, on Monday picking up the loss in a 5-3 defeat at the hands of New York at Yankee Stadium.

“Well, they hit Dickey around a little bit today,” said manager John Gibbons when asked about his rotation’s mini-slump. “I thought he was a little inconsistent with the knuckleball today.”

Dickey was pulled after four innings after giving up seven hits and five runs while striking out five and walking only one -- his shortest start since July 23 in Seattle. His performance followed rough outings by rotation mates J.A. Happ on Sunday, Marco Estrada on Saturday and Marcus Stroman on Friday. Heading into Monday’s game, Toronto’s starters led the American League in wins (58), ERA (3.78), average (.239), innings pitched (843.2) and were second in WHIP (1.22). The loss dropped Dickey to 9-14 with a 4.60 ERA.

“You know, it was pretty good actually,” said Dickey when asked about his knuckleball. “I had a lot of movement on it, it’s just sometimes this game’s a matter of centimetres.

“It’s just been frustrating, but I got to keep pushing forward,” added the veteran starter. “I got a lot to offer still, and four more starts to do it.”

The Jays had Yankees’ starter Masahiro Tanaka in trouble in the first inning, allowing Toronto to take a 1-0 lead, but he settled down, going 6.1 innings, giving up two hits and two runs. The Japanese veteran is 12-4 on the season.

The Jays made a game of it, scoring two runs when down 5-1 in the seventh, but they fell short as a result of stranding eight runners on base and went 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position. On the up side, the bullpen, led by Francisco Liriano, was outstanding. The left-hander, who was recently moved from the rotation, pitched two innings, giving up only one hit and striking out three before being pulled after the sixth inning because his backed locked up -- the result, he said, of not being used to pitching out of the pen.

“It’s a little tight, but nothing serious,” said Liriano.

Relievers Brett Cecil and Joaquin Benoit also pitched hitless innings for Toronto.

Tanaka was replaced by Jonathan Holder in the seventh after walking pinch hitter Ezequiel Carrera and giving up a deep fly ball to right by a second pinch hitter Dioner Navarro. Holder ran into trouble, loading the bases with a pair of walks and was replaced with by Ben Heller with two out. Edwin Encarnacion, who went 3-for-4, hit a single to right to score Carrera and Jose Bautista to make the score 5-3. Yanks’ manager Joe Girardi then pulled Heller for left-hander Tommy Layne to face left-handed hitter Michael Saunders, who was then pinch hit for Russell Martin who popped out to second to end the inning.

The Jays jumped into a 1-0 lead on Tanaka in the first, but probably should have come away with more. Toronto posted three hits, including a lead-off double by second baseman Devon Travis, who scored when the next batter, Bautista, who has an 11-game hit streak in New York, shot a long single to left. But that’s all they could get.

The Yankees took the lead in their half of the inning, centre fielder Jacoby Ellsbury smashing a first-pitch offering from Dickey over the wall in right field to score himself and lead off batter Brett Gardner. Ellsbury finished the day by going 3-for-4. Toronto had a chance to tie it in the second as Travis hit a soft liner to right with two out and Melvin Upton Jr. at second, but Gardner made a nice diving catch to end the inning. Dickey was called for a balk on a pick off play in the third with Chase Headley up and Ellsbury at first and two out. Dickey walked over to first base umpire Mark Wegner to argue his case. In the end, it didn’t matter as Headley popped up to second.

With runners at first and second and two out in the fourth, New York first baseman Tyler Austin, another rookie, hit a double off the left field wall to score two more and give the Yanks a 5-1 lead off Dickey who was pulled for Liriano to start the fifth. Encarnacion hit a two-out single to left in the fifth but Bautista tried to get from first to third on the play and was thrown out by Gardner. The Yankees’ closer Dellin Betances closed the game out by pitching a perfect ninth inning.

YANKS YOUTH COMING THROUGH

The Yankees played some rookie ball against the Blue Jays on Monday afternoon. That is, a couple of their rookies had a ball playing Toronto.

New York’s red-hot first-year catcher, Gary Sanchez, showed why he is the talk of the American League. Sanchez, 23, extended his on-base streak to 20 games in the Yanks’ 5-3 victory over the Jays with a single in the first inning. He has hit safely in 17 of his past 20 games. The Dominican also showed his defensive prowess, throwing out the fleet Melvin Upton Jr., at second in a steal attempt in the fourth. His hard, accurate throw got Upton by a couple of steps. Sanchez, who was promoted to the Yanks on Aug. 3, was named AL player of the month and rookie of the month for August, after batting .389 with 11 home runs and 21 RBIs in 24 games and shows no signs of letting up. He became the first player in MLB history with at least 11 home runs and 31 hits in his first 23 career games. On Aug. 29, Sanchez was named AL player of the week for the second straight week, becoming the first rookie ever to achieve that feat.

Another New York rookie, first baseman Tyler Austin, smacked two doubles and had two RBIs on Monday — his first career multi-RBI game. He brought home two runs in the fourth to give the Yankees a 5-1 lead with a hard shot off the left-field wall off Toronto starter R.A. Dickey. The victory keeps New York 3.5 games back in the AL wild-card standings.

SBuffery@postmedia.com

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