As much attention as the Toronto Blue Jays received for their offseason acquisitions, a rough patch for their top returning sluggers played a big part in the team's poor start.
Their last game may mark a key step in the right direction.
With No. 3 hitter Jose Bautista back at full strength, cleanup man Edwin Encarnacion looks to build off a slump-busting effort Thursday in Toronto's series finale with the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.
Bautista missed three games with a twisted ankle before returning for Tuesday's series-opening 7-4 loss in Detroit. He failed to reach base while serving as the designated hitter, but he was back in his regular right field spot Wednesday.
While Bautista singled, walked and scored two runs, Encarnacion had two doubles, a walk and an RBI as the Blue Jays rallied from a five-run deficit to win 8-6. Encarnacion had gone 0 for 17 with seven strikeouts and no walks over the previous four games.
"I've been swinging at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone, and that's how I've been making outs by myself, swinging at bad pitches," Encarnacion told the team's official website before Wednesday's game. "So, right now I'm going to try to focus on a pitch in the strike zone."
His performance and that of the Blue Jays (3-5) was a good sign for a team which entered the day having scored an AL-low 25 runs. J.P. Arencibia had the go-ahead, three-run double in the seventh inning for Toronto, which tied a season high with 12 hits and drew five walks.
"It was nice to finally get a few hits and walks and guys grinding out at-bats," said Arencibia, hitting .360 with seven RBIs over the past six games.
If Encarnacion and Bautista get going, the Toronto offense could really take off considering leadoff man Jose Reyes is hitting .406 in a Blue Jays uniform.
Another Toronto newcomer, Josh Johnson (0-0, 4.50 ERA), will face the Tigers for the first time.
The right-hander had a shaky debut, giving up four runs - three earned - in six innings of a 6-4 victory over Boston on Friday. He allowed nine hits, walked two and hit a batter.
"I've got to be more efficient with pitches and get deeper into that game," said Johnson, who pitched past the sixth inning in 15 of 31 starts with Miami last year.
Like Johnson, scheduled Tigers starter Doug Fister (1-0, 5.40) wasn't efficient Friday, but he beat the Yankees by allowing three runs and six hits in five innings of an 8-3 win. The righty walked two, hit two batters and threw a wild pitch.
He won his only start against the Jays last year, allowing a run in eight innings and striking out nine in a 4-1 victory July 29.
Detroit's bullpen, meanwhile, remains in disarray. Still with no true closer and two blown saves in four opportunities, Tigers relievers are 0-2 with a 6.66 ERA. Darin Downs , Brayan Villarreal and Octavio Dotel combined to allow four runs, four hits and five walks in three innings Wednesday.
"We've got to find out what guys can do," manager Jim Leyland told the team's official website. "That's as simple as it is. We'll see how it plays out."
The Tigers (4-4) continue to get production from their sluggers. Prince Fielder is 7 for 17 with nine RBIs over the past five games, Miguel Cabrera is 6 for 10 in this series to raise his average to .394 and they share the team lead with 10 RBIs.
|Toronto Blue Jays|
|April 04, 2013||Jose Bautista||Day-to-Day||Left game - Twisted ankle|
|March 27, 2013||Dustin McGowan||60-Day DL||Sore right shoulder|
|March 25, 2013||Brett Lawrie||Day-to-Day||Strained rib|
|March 22, 2013||Drew Hutchison||60-Day DL||Recovery from right elbow surgery|
|March 22, 2013||Brett Lawrie||15-Day DL||Strained left ribcage|
|March 22, 2013||Michael Schwimer||15-Day DL||Right shoulder strain|
|April 09, 2013||Victor Martinez||Day-to-Day||Lacerated right thumb|
|March 22, 2013||Avisail Garcia||15-Day DL||Bruised right heel|
DETROIT (AP) -- Miguel Cabrera set the tone in the first inning, stealing third before the opposing pitcher even started his motion.
On a chilly day when the ball didn't appear to be carrying, the Detroit Tigers kept their legs moving.
Cabrera tripled and scored twice, and the Tigers knocked Josh Johnson out of the game with a five-run second inning en route to an 11-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday. There were no home runs on this wet day, but Detroit didn't need any.
"Miggy stealing, getting a triple - we were running around a lot today," catcher Alex Avila said. "Had to - it was pretty cold outside."
Avila described the weather as "miserable" - it was 35 degrees at game time, and there was a bit of rain to play through as well. It was the lowest game-time temperature for a Detroit home game since 1996, according to STATS.
"It was definitely football weather out there, but once you get in the box, you sit in the box, you're there to compete," Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter said. "You're really not thinking about all that until you get jammed or hit one off the end and feel like your fingers are left there at the plate while you're running to first."
Doug Fister (2-0) wore short sleeves and pitched fine, allowing a run and eight hits in eight innings for Detroit. Johnson (0-1) allowed six runs and seven hits in 1 1-3 innings - the shortest start of his career.
Prince Fielder had four RBIs and Hunter added three for the Tigers.
Cabrera caught Toronto napping in the first, going from second to third without a pitch being thrown. By the time Johnson and the Blue Jays realized he was stealing, it was too late to make a play.
Victor Martinez 's RBI single made it 1-0.
Mark DeRosa tied it with a sacrifice fly, but Johnson got only one out in the second.
Jhonny Peralta singled and went to third on Alex Avila 's single. Omar Infante made it 2-1 with a sacrifice fly, and Avila was also able to tag up and go to second on that play. He scored from there on Austin Jackson 's single, with Jackson taking second on the throw.
Detroit's offense certainly isn't built on speed, but the Tigers were quick to take the extra base Thursday. Jackson scored from second on Hunter's single, and Cabrera then tripled to right-center.
Fielder added a run-scoring single to make it 6-1 and chase Johnson.
"I haven't thrown a slider for a strike yet, and I need that pitch. When I'm throwing it for strikes, it is something that the hitters have to think about, but this is two starts now, and it hasn't happened," Johnson said. "I didn't have anything today. They were all over my curveball for some reason, and the fastball was just hanging over the plate."
Toronto, a chic pick to win the AL East after acquiring Johnson, Jose Reyes and R.A. Dickey in the offseason, has lost three straight series to start the year for the first time since 1978, when it lost four straight series
Fister struck out five and walked one while looking unconcerned by the cold.
"It's just consistency. You go out there, and as long as you're moving and things are all right, it's not too cold," Fister said. "Again, it's a mindset."
The Tigers blew a 6-1 lead in an 8-6 loss to Toronto on Wednesday, but they had no trouble holding on this time. Jackson had three hits and three runs for Detroit. He's reached base in all nine games this year.
Hunter hit a two-run single in the fifth, and Fielder added a two-run double.
Fielder's sacrifice fly in the seventh made it 11-1.
NOTES: Detroit had 16 hits. ... The Tigers still haven't made an error this season. ... Johnson's shortest previous start was 2 2-3 innings at San Diego last season. ... The Tigers hosted a game in 34-degree weather on April 9, 1996, against Seattle at old Tiger Stadium. ... Detroit plays at Oakland on Friday night in a rematch of last year's AL Division Series, won by the Tigers in five games. Detroit RHP Max Scherzer (1-0) faces Oakland RHP Bartolo Colon (1-0). ... Toronto is at Kansas City on Friday night. The Blue Jays send LHP J.A. Happ (1-0) to the mound against RHP Luis Mendoza (0-0).