Maybe the struggling pitching staffs in the Toronto Blue Jays organization turned a corner Tuesday night.
The Blue Jays got good news with the return of last year’s 20-game winner, J.A. Happ, to the starting rotation. He pitched four decent innings in a 6-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds. The Buffalo Bisons got a much-needed bounce-back performance from their bullpen in a 6-4 victory over the Toledo Mud Hens.
The Blue Jays’ relief pitchers have logged the most bullpen innings in the American League this season, with an average of 3.63 a game through Monday. All that work – largely precipitated by injuries – has had a trickle-down effect on the Bisons.
Buffalo has seen its team earned-run average rise from fourth in the International League to 11th over the past two weeks.
But the Herd bullpen, which blew leads in Charlotte Sunday and Monday, rebounded with 4 2/3 innings of scoreless relief in a homestand-opening win at Coca-Cola Field.
“The bullpen has been pretty taxed with guys going up and down, starters’ pitch counts being low,” said Buffalo's Jeff Beliveau, who got the win with 2 2/3 innings of relief. “We had guys step up, just trying to get outs and get us deep into the game.”
“It’s a big boost,” said Bisons manager Bobby Meacham. “I talked to a couple of those guys down there today before we started working out and told them just keep going. What’s going to happen the next game? We’re not going to worry about what went wrong yesterday or the day before. We’re worried about how things get turned around quickly the next time you get out there. They were raring to get out there and they did a great job.”
More stability in Toronto might help the Herd, and Happ’s return was a step in that direction. He missed 37 games with left elbow soreness before Tuesday’s start.
Toronto was expected to have one of the best starting rotations in the major leagues entering the season. Marco Estrada and Marcus Stroman have held up. But besides the Happ injury, the Jays have seen Aaron Sanchez go onto the disabled list three times, and Francisco Liriano was shut down May 10 with a shoulder strain.
Liriano, who had a rehabilitation start for Buffalo Saturday, is scheduled to start for the Jays on Friday. Sanchez remains out with a blister on his finger and has no date yet for a return.
The Blue Jays rank 13th in team earned-run average and stand 20th in quality starts (when the starter lasts at least six innings and allows three runs or fewer).
Buffalo’s bullpen fared well the first six weeks but struggled on the just-completed seven-game road trip, when the Herd went 3-4.
Beliveau, a 28-year-old who broke in with the Chicago Cubs five years ago, has been steady throughout the season. The last 11 games, he’s 2-1 with a 2.34 earned-run average, 33 strikeouts and 10 walks. He suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder in 2015 and spent last season at lower levels.
“I finally feel back,” Beliveau said. “I had surgery two years ago, and last year was a struggle, searching for that feeling, that last 5, 10 percent. I was kind of looking for it all year. In spring training it kind of came back, and I feel really good this year.”
Chad Girodo pitched an inning to get his third hold. Lionel Campos pitched an inning for his fourth save.