TORONTO -- The Blue Jays might be two games above .500, but their starting rotation has become a serious problem and it does not appear as though the issue is going away anytime soon.Toronto's starting five has been an area of concern all season and there were even more signs
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays might be two games above .500, but their starting rotation has become a serious problem and it does not appear as though the issue is going away anytime soon.
Toronto's starting five has been an area of concern all season and there were even more signs of trouble in Thursday's series finale against the Mariners. The normally reliable J.A. Happ was roughed up for a season-high seven earned runs on 10 hits and a pair of walks over 3 1/3 innings in a 9-3 loss to Seattle.
The Blue Jays' rotation now has a 5.53 ERA through the first 38 games of the season, which is ranked 28th in the Major Leagues. The starting staff that was supposed to be this club's biggest strength has been anything but through the first six-plus weeks of the season, with all five starters having taken their turn going through a rut.
"One of us has done well, a couple of us have done well, but we just haven't been able to get on that roll that we know we can," Happ said after his shortest start since Sept. 4, 2016. "We're certainly working to try to figure it out, but we know we can do better."
Happ's outing against one of his former teams went off the rails before it had barely even begun. Seattle loaded the bases with two outs in the first inning and Kyle Seager then delivered an early decisive blow with a grand slam to center field for his fifth home run of the season and first since April 28. Before the inning was over, the Mariners sent all nine hitters to the plate and forced Happ to throw 38 pitches. By then, the writing was on the wall.
With the Blue Jays lacking a traditional long reliever, manager John Gibbons attempted to stick with Happ through the early lows, but his performance did not get much better as the game progressed. Seattle added one run in the second, another in the third and loaded the bases in the fourth before a sacrifice fly finally chased Happ from the game for good. His ERA, which began the day at 3.67, soared to 4.80.
Happ has now allowed 10 runs over his last nine innings and has lost back-to-back starts for the first time since Aug. 18-25 of last year. The 35-year-old Happ struck out at least eight in five consecutive outings from April 3-29, but over his last two starts he has the same number of walks vs. strikeouts with six each.
"I certainly wasn't good, but that first inning really wasn't bad," Happ said. "It was two ground balls and a walk. In a big moment, I threw a pitch down the middle to a really good hitter. There you go, 4-0. It didn't get much better from there, but really I think it was just that one pitch for that inning. I tried to keep them there and I wasn't able to."
Catcher Russell Martin provided one of the only sparks on offense for the Blue Jays with a two-run homer in the bottom of the second inning. Josh Donaldson also had a three-hit night, but for the most part Toronto's offense was held in check by right-hander Mike Leake, who allowed a pair of runs on six hits while striking out six and walking one over seven strong innings.
The Blue Jays have now lost three consecutive home series and will need to turn things around in a hurry with the division-rival Red Sox arriving in town on Friday for the start of a three-game series. Toronto's rotation will have its hands full for that matchup with Chris Sale, David Price and Thomas Pomeranz scheduled to pitch for Boston.
"They're good, obviously," Gibbons said of the Red Sox. "You figure they're going to score, but that's the key for us, too. When we're scoring, we're winning. We've been taking our lumps in the rotation. I expect the same, you can live by that. Now, if we go out and get a couple of gems thrown for us, it might be a different story."
The Blue Jays allowed at least one run in each of their first five innings for the 19th time in franchise history. The last time it happened was Aug. 23, 2013, at Houston.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Happ's rough start came despite some nice defensive plays being made behind him. In the top of the third, with Toronto trailing 6-2, Seager hit a shallow popup to center. Kevin Pillar appeared to hesitate for just a split-second before running in, but he made up for lost time with his speed and then pulled off a nifty sliding catch.
HE SAID IT
"Let's just try to win tomorrow. Sale is throwing tomorrow, that's never easy. Day by day. You ever heard that? You can always say it when you're trying to avoid the question." -- Gibbons, when asked if there was a sense of urgency for the upcoming Red Sox series considering Toronto is 5-9 against teams with winning records this season
The Blue Jays will open a three-game series against division-rival Boston when right-hander Aaron Sanchez takes the mound on Friday night at Rogers Centre opposite Sale. Sanchez has been pretty inconsistent so far this season after missing almost all of last year with blister issues. He has allowed at least four runs in each of his past two starts and he could not make it out of the fourth inning in his last outing. First pitch is scheduled for 7:07 p.m. ET.
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.