CINCINNATI -- The Blue Jays' starting rotation has been surprisingly consistent this season, but the last turn through has been a struggle.
Toronto's starters entered play on Sunday afternoon having posted a 7.86 ERA (26 1/3 innings -- 23 earned runs) over its past six games. The numbers are largely skewed by short outings from Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman while J.A. Happ and Liam Hendriks combined to allow 13 runs in less than 24 hours.
In the past three games alone, the Blue Jays' rotation ERA went from third in the American League at 3.67 to ninth with a 3.94 ERA. The overall consistency this season has exceeded expectations, but a quick turnaround will be required to ensure that trend continues.
"It was a tough series in New York no doubt as far as finishing guys off," pitching coach Pete Walker said. "There were a lot of pitches thrown early and that's frustrating for the staff and then the relievers who kind of have to wear it.
"New York did a great job of fouling a lot of tough pitches off, but we need to be better finishing hitters off, forcing contact early on and minimizing our pitch count, which we didn't do in that series."
Despite the recent slide, Toronto starters rank first in the American League with 33 victories thanks at least in part to an offense which is one of the best in the division. Last year, the rotation didn't record its 33rd win until Aug. 26.
The lineup has struggled recently, though, and that's one reason the staff has two wins in its past 12 decisions. Over those 12 decisions, Toronto managed to average just two runs per game. Still, the staff needs to do a better job of finishing hitters off.
"Obviously you get ahead and it's about taking the ball out of the zone for a swing and a miss," Walker said. "It seems like we're making good pitches in the strike zone so there were a lot of foul balls, especially in New York. I know Hutch and Stroman, the next turn out, we had good side sessions.
"Working on their changeup as well because when you're not executing pitches, and you're leaving them up in the zone, there's more of a chance for a foul ball. Especially on an elevated fastball, changeup up in the zone and when the breaking ball doesn't have that bite to it, that finish to it. Those are things they worked on and we're hopeful they can take it into their next outings."