Blue Jays' bats go silent, winning streak comes to an end
The Blue Jays have inched their way toward the shadow of a .500 record with the return of some boom in their bats, complemented by a patchwork pitching staff.
There was no such support at the plate for Sunday’s starter, Joe Biagini, however.
The Jays could only manage one run off wily Rangers starter Andrew Cashner, falling 3-1 in the conclusion of a three-game weekend set at the Rogers Centre.
Biagini, elevated from the bullpen with injuries to starters J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez and Francisco Liriano, was unable to benefit from the most productive effort of his Major League career.
Not only did he go deeper than any previous start (six complete innings), he finished with career highs in pitches (95) and strikeouts (7). He left with his team trailing 2-1 in an effort worthy of a win.
“As the game went on, I thought he got stronger,” Jays manager John Gibbons said. “He’s got the stuff to be a good starting pitcher.
“They’ve got a good hitting team over there and I thought he held them in check pretty good. That’s encouraging.”
Third baseman Josh Donaldson and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki were back in the lineup after resting on Saturday, but neither managed a hit in their four plate appearances each.
The loss snapped the Jays five-game winning streak and they also failed to hit a home run for the first time in the past seven games.
The Jays captured the three-game series 2-1, however, and continue a 10-game homestand with a three-gamer against Toronto’s own Joey Votto and the Cincinnati Reds on Monday.
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So is Biagini a viable starter?
The enigmatic right-hander believes he is and his performance over the past month has gone beyond spot starting. And with the 95 pitch count on Sunday, he’s ready to handle a full workload.
Still, Biagini is well aware that the rotation will get some of its regulars back soon, starting with a probable start from J.A. Happ on Tuesday.
Francisco Liriano had a rehab start in Buffalo Sunday night and is also nearing a return, possibly as soon as Friday against the New York Yankees.
“I’ve always thought of myself as a starter,” Biagini said. “I feel pretty comfortable in that role as I did with the Giants in the minor leagues.
“But the situation with this team is that there’s a lot of guys who are really good and have been doing this for a while and have their roles. I’m not going to feel like I deserve to have a spot over any of those guys. I just know the situation and know that if one of them comes back at any moment, that’s their job.”
Considering starting pitching was considered a depth issue coming into the season — beyond the big five when healthy — at least Jays management now knows they can get a solid performance from Biagini.
“I’m happy to be thought of as a guy who they feel can do it,” said Biagini, whose record is 1-3. “That’s pretty cool.”
The Jays’ offence that had been on fire of late cooled considerably in this one and it had nothing to do with the fresh air from the open roof, a first for this season.
Cashner had Toronto hitters stymied, particularly when they had runners in scoring position, going 0-for-7 in that situation.
“He was really good today,” Jays second baseman Devon Travis said. “He had a lot of run on that fastball. He was locating pretty good. Even his misses ended up being in good spots on the other side of the plate.”
Gibbons said that Cashner, the former San Diego Padres starter who signed a one-year, $10-million deal with the Rangers last November, kept the Jays guessing.
“Cash has been one of the most sought-after arms in baseball the last few years,” Gibbons said of Cashner, who allowed five hits and two walks over seven innings. “He used to be just power, power, power. Now he’s learned to take a little bit off.
“He can throw anything at any time. He kept us off balance and when he needed it, he just reached back for a little bit extra on that fastball when he had to have it.”
With the dramatic playoff victories over the past couple of seasons, the Rangers have emerged as one of the Jays biggest rivals outside of the AL East.
Since 2013, Texas is just 9-20 against the Jays, including that 2-6 playoff record.
“We just saw a team that we’ve had a lot of history with in the past,” Travis said. “It’s a lot of fun playing against those guys. Coming out with the victory in the series is definitely a big thing for us.”
A single to left in the fifth pushed second baseman Travis’s consecutive hit streak to a dozen games. In that stretch, Travis is batting a sensational .458 with 13 RBI ... Kevin Pillar snapped an 0-for-12 blip when he doubled to lead off the game and that hit would lead to the only Jays run. Pillar scored on a Jose Bautista sacrifice fly, Joey Bats’ 20th RBI of the month ... The Rangers got on board in the third when a Jonathan Lucroy singled brought home Elvis Andrus and then took the lead in the following frame when Joey Gallo belted a solo home run off of Biagini ...A late potential Jays rally fell short after two-out singles from Justin Smoak and Russell Martin in the bottom of the ninth couldn’t cash ... The Rangers got their insurance third run on a wayward offering from Jays reliever Dominic Leone that got away from Martin and was scored a wild pitch.