A few days ago, John Gibbons talked about how nice it would be if his starting pitchers suddenly clicked into a groove, considering the Toronto Blue Jays' expanding injury list.
Starters Drew Hutchison and J.A. Happ did that for the Jays manager against the Baltimore Orioles this week. But with two more of the team's big hitters out of the lineup and a series of imposing pitchers coming up in consecutive series against the Detroit Tigers and the Seattle Mariners, the rest of the Toronto staff has to match them if the Blue Jays hope to keep the Orioles in sight in the American League East Division race.
Happ (8-6) did his bit Thursday in the finale of the series against the Orioles, holding the division leaders to a couple of runs while striking out 12, a career high. But the holes in the Toronto offence let Baltimore get away with a 2-1 win in front of 34,676 fans at the Rogers Centre and take the series by the same margin.
"If we pitch like we did the last couple nights we'll at least give ourselves a good shot," Gibbons said of the Blue Jays' prospects in the next two series, starting Friday night at the Rogers Centre. Then he considered the latest calamity to hit his lineup.
On Thursday afternoon, third baseman Brett Lawrie was officially placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left oblique muscle. He is expected to be out for at least a month. Then, in the first inning a few hours later, designated hitter Melky Cabrera was hit on the right elbow by a pitch from Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez.
Gibbons said x-rays on Cabrera's elbow were negative, although the joint "locked up" when he tried to swing the bat between innings and he had to leave the game. While Gibbons is hopeful Cabrera will be able to play "in the next couple of days," the loss of him and Lawrie takes two more power hitters out of the lineup.
They join Edwin Encarnacion (right quadriceps) and Adam Lind (broken right foot) on the sidelines, leaving the Blue Jays with a makeshift lineup riddled with minor-league call-ups to face two of the best teams in the AL. Gibbons called it a "M.A.S.H. unit." Lind is expected to be ready to play by Monday, the first game of the series in Seattle, and there are hopes Encarnacion will be back a few days later.
In the meantime, the Orioles left town with a five-game lead over the Jays, one better than they had at the start of the series. Toronto now has to try and make up ground on them and get back in a wild-card spot by way of the Tigers and their formidable pitching staff.
Gibbons was asked if this meant trying some small ball in hopes of squeaking out a win or three if the Jays' pitching remains strong.
"I think we've been doing that," he said. "When situations come up, we've bunted at times. We've done a little hit-and-run but you've got to get guys on to hit and run.
"Our lineup is what it is right now and there's some guys who been doing a good job. Some nights you're going to get that big hit and some nights you're not. That's the big leagues. If you're going to win anything you've got to beat those guys [Tigers and Mariners]."
Then again, scrapping for a run here and there against the Tigers and Mariners just isn't the Jays' style, the manager admitted.
"Let's be realistic. We're missing the home-run ball. That's a good part of what we are," Gibbons said.
Lawrie's stint on the disabled list, the fifth for the 24-year-old since he made it to Major League Baseball in 2011, marks yet another muscle strain. This brought up the question of whether or not the 6-foot, 210-pounder should worry more about flexibility than maintaining his muscular build.
"I don't know. I'm definitely not being critical," said Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos. "He's in great shape, he's strong. You'd love for everyone to look like Brett in terms of how he takes care of himself and strength and everything else. It's something that he's had oblique strains now two years in a row."
Anthopoulos ventured that "maybe with Brett we have to adjust some things," but noted with both oblique strains "we don't know what the cause was."
With Lawrie on the DL, the Blue Jays initially called up left-handed reliever Rob Rasmussen from their Buffalo farm team. But he was sent back after Thursday's game because infielder Steve Tolleson is coming back from paternity leave.