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Blue Jays struggle to pick up slack for Dickey

After slow start to season, vet has notched string of strong outings

CHICAGO -- R.A. Dickey can't seem to shake the constant criticism he receives in Toronto, but he's actually settled into a nice groove, even if the veteran knuckleballer doesn't have the wins to show for it.

Dickey has surrendered three runs or fewer in seven of his last eight starts. The problem has been a lack of run support, which is especially surprising considering he pitches for the league's top offense. The lack of offense was an issue again on Thursday, as Dickey was saddled with a 2-0 loss to the White Sox despite tossing seven strong innings.

The 40-year-old Dickey has a respectable 3.73 ERA over those eight games, but he has just one win to show for it. In fact, Dickey has two wins all season in the 10 starts in which he allowed three runs or fewer. With this type of high-powered lineup, it's borderline shocking.

"Yeah, he has been good," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said when asked about the recent eight-start stretch. "R.A. has been good since he got here, he really has. He has a won a lot of games for us, he's pitched well, he's chalked up a lot of innings, he's done a good job for this team."

There's no question that Dickey got off to a slow start this season and took a lot longer than expected to find his groove. He had a 5.77 ERA on May 26, but he's slowly chipped away at that number and now has a mark that sits at 4.87 to go with a 3-10 record. That trend continued Thursday afternoon, with the only blip coming in the sixth inning, when he allowed a leadoff triple to Adam Eaton -- who scored on a passed ball -- and a solo homer to Melky Cabrera.

Video: [email protected]: Passed ball allows Eaton to cross the plate

Outside of that three-batter stretch, the former National League Cy Young Award winner was relatively flawless. He surrendered four hits and two walks while striking out six, but it didn't matter on a day when Toronto's offense was completely shut down by Chicago right-hander Jeff Samardzija.

Dickey's turnaround began after an outing vs. Houston on May 15, when he allowed seven runs over five innings. He made several mechanical adjustments after that start with the help of pitching coach Pete Walker, and since then, he has performed as expected. The lone exception was when he allowed five runs over 5 2/3 innings in a start vs the Tigers on July 4.

"I've been going pretty good up until that outing," Dickey said. "That was kind of an anomaly. [The knuckleball] wasn't doing much, it wasn't feeling great in my hand, it was just one of those days you chalk up to having a clunker. But since the Houston start, I feel like I've been pretty consistent and I just want to keep going, keep giving my team a chance to win ballgames."

The recent string of success doesn't mean Dickey is getting a free pass for the first half. The first eight starts of the year were not good, and he's not looking to shake off any responsibility for that.

When he was asked what kind of grade he would give himself for the first half, Dickey was about as critical as a lot of fans seem to be.

"For me personally, if I had to grade myself, I'd certainly give myself a C-minus," Dickey said. "I feel like there's a lot of improvement I can make over the next 16 starts, 15 starts, however many starts I have left. ... I'm definitely capable of what you saw today, consistently, and that's what I'm going to go for."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.
Read More: Toronto Blue Jays, R.A. Dickey