HOUSTON – The thing about playing back-to-back extra-inning games, regardless of whether a team wins or loses, is that there’s always a comeuppance.
Even with consecutive seven-inning starts from Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen was needed for 12 frames of work on Sunday and Monday, and the group was gasping. Only Jason Grilli was available in an ideal world Tuesday, which is why Mike Bolsinger and Danny Barnes were summoned from triple-A Buffalo.
A long and strong outing from R.A. Dickey was essential, both to help the bullpen reset, but also to simply get his team through the night.
Dickey, blitzed for six homers and 17 earned runs in his three previous starts, stepped into the void in a big way with seven outstanding innings of one-run ball. In combination with solo shots from Jose Bautista in the third inning, the 300th of his career, and Edwin Encarnacion in the fourth, and a scoreless eighth from Barnes in a high leverage big-league debut, the Blue Jays ended a two-game skid with a 2-1 victory over the Houston Astros.
“He was fantastic,” manager John Gibbons said of Dickey. “We desperately needed that and he was as good as you can be. He really gave us more than we needed and then of course, how about Barnes, making his debut in a pressure situation against the top of their lineup. A one-run game. Hey, there’s no better way to do that. Jose’s 300th home run, so you tip your hat to him, too.
“Good win, big win.”
Grilli, covering for Roberto Osuna, closed things out in the ninth for his second save and another good start by Marco Estrada on Wednesday against Colin McHugh should help the bullpen normalize. Whatever the case, Dickey gave his team a major lift.
The knuckleballer had planned to work on the consistency of delivery and release point after getting pounded for two homers and six earned runs pitching on short rest against San Diego last week. He came out of the gate pounding the zone, repeatedly inducing weak contact.
“I really didn’t feel like there was a grand difference, but I think the pace of my mechanic is what was different,” said Dickey. “I work fast anyway, but the pace of play is different than the pace of my mechanic. If I can have a very deliberate mechanic and still work quickly, that’s what I want to try and do and today I felt like I was able to repeat that rhythm over and over again. Just like anything, it’s about rhythm for me, I had a good rhythm tonight, just try to stay in the strike zone with it.”
One of the few hard-hit balls against him came in the fourth, when Colby Rasmus pummelled a pitch that leaves at Rogers Centre, but was a long, loud out at Minute Maid Park where it’s 436 feet to centre field.
The only run off him came in the seventh, when Carlos Gomez doubled into the left-field corner and with two outs, Evan Gattis blooped a single to right to cash him in. Dickey recovered to get Jason Castro on a fly ball to right field and end the inning.
“That (was) the first time all year I didn’t walk anybody,” said Dickey, who allowed six hits and struck out five. “If I can do that in the strike zone, I’m in for a good run here.”
Barnes, a 35th-round pick in the 2010 draft, was called up after dominating all season long at double-A New Hampshire and triple-A Buffalo, posting a cumulative ERA of 0.84 over 53.1 innings with a WHIP of 0.51. Neither number is a typo.
Called on to nurse a 2-1 lead in the eighth inning, the 26-year-old popped George Springer up, struck out uber prospect Alex Bregman, gave up a single to Jose Altuve and then struck out Carlos Correa to end the inning.
Not a bad day for the Princeton grad who wrote his thesis on baseball free agency.
“It was probably good that it was a tight situation there because you can kind of get caught up in the moment,” said Barnes, who learned of his promotion at 1:40 a.m. “This is obviously a day that I’ll never forget. It was good that it was a tight game because you’re just focusing on getting three outs, get it to Grilli and win the game. That made it a little bit easier I guess.”
The Blue Jays offence, again minus Troy Tulowitzki whose thumb improved and was available in a pinch, remains cold, although the homers from Bautista and Encarnacion off Lance McCullers provided just the margin they needed. Josh Donaldson returned to the lineup from a partial day off Monday for his sore hamstring and singled in the third but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double, and turned in a handful of nice plays on the hot corner.
Bautista’s homer made him the 10th active big-leaguer with 300 home runs. Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre, Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder are the others.
“It’s always a friendly reminder that you’ve been doing this a long time and you’ve enjoyed some success, you get happy about that, no doubt,” said Bautista. “But right now we’ve got more important things to worry about, and I’ll get to enjoy that in the off-season.”
McCullers allowed seven hits over 4.2 innings of work but worryingly left the game with discomfort in his right elbow. The Blue Jays, in the midst of settling when Aaron Sanchez transitions to the bullpen (Francisco Liriano may start Friday in Kansas City, with Sanchez pushed back to Saturday), are sure to have taken notice.
Joe Musgrove, a supplemental first-round pick by the Blue Jays part of the package sent to Houston in the 2012 trade for J.A. Happ, took over and proceeded to strike out eight batters in 4.1 shutout innings, matching the big-league record for strikeouts in a relief debut.
But Dickey, with an unlikely assist from Barnes and Grilli, made sure the two runs stood, and that the bullpen rested.
Shi Davidi, Sportsnet.ca | Photo: trcanada.com
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