TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays’ bullpen has struggled mightily over the last week.
There was a massive meltdown in Minnesota on April 17 and another blown opportunity a few days later in Cleveland. The Toronto relievers took it on the chin again Thursday as the Baltimore Orioles turned a close game into an 11-4 rout at Rogers Centre.
The Blue Jays wasted a quality six-inning effort by Drew Hutchison and fell back to the .500 mark by losing the rubber game of three-game series. Baltimore scored five runs in the seventh inning and added four more in the eighth for the blowout win.
“There’s going to be some blips every now and then,” said Toronto manager John Gibbons. “I still think our bullpen stacks up as good as anybody out there.”
Several relievers had blips on this night.
Neil Wagner lasted just one out before being pulled. Brett Cecil (0-1) didn’t even manage an out, allowing four earned runs, two walks and two hits. Esmil Rogers worked the rest of the seventh inning and pitched the eighth, giving up three earned runs and five hits.
“It’s only April, you’re not going to be perfect every time,” Cecil said. “I didn’t feel like I had a good feel for anything. I was pulling my cutters, my curveballs were up and not as sharp.”
Jonathan Schoop homered and David Lough had three of the Orioles’ 14 hits. Bud Norris (1-2) allowed five hits, three earned runs and a walk over six innings for Baltimore (11-10).
Nelson Cruz scored twice and drove in two runs while Chris Davis and Adam Jones had three RBIs apiece.
“We know these guys are going to score runs whether it’s early or late,” Norris said.
Toronto (11-11) did most of its damage in the second inning. Dioner Navarro put the Blue Jays on the board with a solo shot for his first homer of the season. Juan Francisco followed with a single and scored when Colby Rasmus belted a two-run blast.
Baltimore had some chances early on but Hutchison was locating his fastball on both sides of the plate to keep the Orioles at bay. The 23-year-old right-hander had nine strikeouts for the second straight game.
“I don’t go out there trying to strike people out, I go out there trying to command the ball and attack the strike zone,” Hutchison said. “And when you get ahead of guys, you put them away. That’s all that is.”
The Orioles finally got to Hutchison in the fifth when Schoop opened the frame with a solo homer. Lough reached on a walk, stole second, moved to third on a sacrifice fly and scored on a Davis single.
Hutchison struck out Jones to get out of the frame with the lead intact.
“Hutch gave us that big start we were looking for, we just couldn’t take advantage of it,” Gibbons said. “Then the game got away late there.”
The Toronto bullpen also struggled in a 10-8 loss to the Orioles a night earlier. It was the first time Baltimore has scored 10 runs or more in back-to-back games since August 2008.
“We can string some hits together and get the home run any time,” Jones said. “Our lineup is scary and it’s fun to see it click the last couple of nights.”
Norris settled down after his rough second inning. He faced the minimum 11 batters until hitting Encarnacion with a pitch in the sixth inning.
After the game, Gibbons said he wasn’t worried about his bullpen, which had a strong season last year before fading late in the campaign.
This season’s low point came in a 9-5 loss to the Twins a week earlier. In that game, Minnesota scored three straight runs on wild pitches by Toronto’s Sergio Santos and the bullpen issued a team-record eight walks in one inning.
The struggles continued against the Orioles and things don’t get easier with the reigning World Series champion Boston Red Sox in town for a weekend series.
“It’s still a good bullpen,” Gibbons said. “(The Orioles) found a couple holes, but they kept the pressure on us all night.”