The Blue Jays picked up their first win since before the All-Star break on Thursday, snapping a season-high seven-game skid with a 4-0 shutout over the Astros. Could that relief turn into something more starting Friday?
"I guess. Just to prove to ourselves that we can win a game," first baseman Adam Lind said. "It was nice to come in [to the clubhouse] and play some loud music. We didn't know what song to play because it's been so long."
Toronto will try to flip the script and start a winning streak Friday night at Rogers Centre, where knuckleballer R.A. Dickey will take on struggling Houston right-hander Jordan Lyles.
It will be an uphill battle for the Blue Jays, still sitting in a distant fifth place in the highly competitive American League East, and for that reason, they are realistic about how difficult it would be to contend for a spot atop the division.
"We know what's happening, but it's not like we're laying down and giving up," infielder Maicer Izturis said. "This victory might change things and go in the right direction."
Having lost 18 of their last 22 games, the Astros could use a victory to turn things around as well. The same goes for Lyles, who's looking to get back to the form he flashed in June, when he went 2-2 with a 3.53 ERA in six starts.
July has not been so kind to Lyles, as he's gone 0-1 with a 7.94 ERA in three starts, allowing 20 hits and 15 earned runs in 17 innings. His rough stretch took its sharpest downward turn on Sunday against the Mariners, as he gave up 10 runs (nine earned) on eight hits and two walks in four innings.
"From the get-go, I was missing around the zone," Lyles said after that outing. "Wasn't quite hitting the target, just a little bit off. It really just came down to fastball command."
One thing the Astros will feel comfortable with, however, is the top of their batting order. Manager Bo Porter has settled his first three spots with the addition of shortstop Jonathan Villar, who made his debut Monday. With Villar in the leadoff spot, Porter can slot Jose Altuve in the two-hole and All-Star catcher Jason Castro third.
"It makes it easier when you're writing the lineup, knowing those three guys are going to be in the lineup every day, unless you choose to give them a day off," Porter said.
Astros: Bullpen struggles concerning Porter
• Porter said Thursday that his relievers' ability to get key outs is "a major concern" at this point, and the numbers show why. Houston's bullpen has served up 61 home runs, 20 more than the next-highest total in the Majors. Astros relievers have combined to record a 5.06 ERA. However, Porter does not expect major role changes any time soon.
"It's a major concern, because the starters are working hard, and I said this about a week ago -- our starters have been a pretty good mainstay in the course of this year, and when you have a lead late in the game, to me it's the most demoralizing loss in baseball," Porter said. "Those guys down there have been made aware they need to do a better job protecting leads, and you need to win the games in which we're in a position to win."
• The Astros signed 16-year-old international free agent Wilson Amador, a right-handed-hitting shortstop from the same hometown in the Dominican Republic as former Most Valuable Player Miguel Tejada. Amador recently underwent surgery to repair a growth plate fracture in his right elbow and is expected to miss about six months, but he should be back at full strength in time for the 2014 Dominican Summer League season.
Blue Jays: Morrow shut down for season
• After being diagnosed with an entrapped radial nerve in his right forearm during a visit to Dr. James Andrews, Brandon Morrow's season has come to an end. The Blue Jays' No. 2 starter has been sidelined since May 28 due to lingering soreness in his forearm, but doctors hadn't found anything structurally wrong after several MRIs.
Morrow will rest for six weeks before beginning a throwing program. Ideally, Morrow will be pitching off a mound by the end of the season. Toronto will be counting on Morrow to return to form next season, as he's signed through 2014 with a club option for 2015.
"You figure at the end of six weeks, he'll be feeling better, but I'm no doctor," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of Morrow, whose 2013 ends with a 2-3 record and 5.63 ERA in 10 starts.
• Gibbons said on Thursday that Brett Lawrie will no longer shift between second and third base, as he will assume a regular spot at the hot corner. Lawrie could move to second base in the future, however.
"I talked to him today, and he said he's fine anywhere," Gibbons said. "'I'll play anywhere, wherever the team needs.' That was his answer. We don't want to get in the habit of moving you around, but it might help your flexibility down the road. He said, 'whatever you want to do.'"
• Thursday night was the 11th time the Astros have been shut out this season.
• The Blue Jays will enter Friday's game with a 26-27 record at home after dropping 10 of their last 12 games at Rogers Centre prior to Thursday's victory.