CLEVELAND – Ask a Blue Jays fan still hesitant to believe in the team whether a 5-4, nine-game run through Baltimore, Minnesota and Cleveland would be satisfactory early in the season, and the answer likely would be in the affirmative.
Yet it's those defeats, snatched from the jaws of victory, which sting the most and Toronto had two of them on the trip.
The Jays led 4-2 in the sixth inning when Aaron Loup walked the bases loaded and gave up a bases-clearing, three-RBI double to the Indians' David Murphy. Cleveland had a lead it wouldn't relinquish, ultimately winning the game 6-4.
The meltdown was relatively minor compared to Thursday night's eighth inning debacle in Minnesota, which saw three relievers give up six runs on just one hit and an unseemly eight walks in a 9-5 loss to the Twins.
It's jarring because the Blue Jays' bullpen has been consistently reliable.
It raises two concerns about the pitching staff.
First: the walks. Six more on Sunday afternoon for a season total of 81, which pending the behaviour of Arizona Diamondbacks' pitchers in their game against the Dodgers later Sunday, ranks second-most in baseball.
"The walks have killed us so far," pitching coach Pete Walker told TSN.ca before Sunday's game. "I think it's cost us a couple of ballgames."
Walks just cost them another one.
Second: with the exception of Mark Buehrle, the starting staff's inability to pitch deep into games.
"Bottom line, we've got to get some innings out of our starters or our bullpen will be dead come May," said manager John Gibbons after Sunday's defeat.
Such was the dichotomy of Brandon Morrow's performance on Sunday. His six strikeouts over five-plus innings belied the fact Indians' hitters battled him throughout.
Michael Bourn led off the game with a nine-pitch at-bat. He struck out. In the second, Michael Brantley put the Indians ahead 1-0 with a solo home run on the ninth pitch. An inning later, in the third, Jason Kipnis worked a full-count, 10-pitch walk.
Morrow was done at 95 pitches one hitter into the sixth. He threw almost 30 per cent of his pitches (28 of 95) in those three plate appearances alone, leaving Gibbons to wish for more efficiency.
"I haven't been able to do it as much as I would like to," said Morrow of pitching into the sixth and seventh innings. "Today it was one long inning in the middle; without that I would have been in a better position to finish that sixth."
Walker is preaching contact early in counts. He doesn't want pitchers worried about strikeout totals. He wants aggression and laments that radar gun readings are posted on electronic scoreboards.
"It's trusting your stuff and really believing that your fastball is good enough that day," said Walker. "I think a couple of our guys might be down in velocity and sometimes that affects your approach. You don't see that 97 on the board and it's 92, 93 and all of a sudden you don't trust that fastball in as much as you did last year."
It's easy to fall in love with the radar gun and easy to forget that the Blue Jays best pitcher to this point, Mark Buehrle, no longer tops 84 miles per hour with his fastball.
"I think it comes down to realizing it's not the velocity, it's the location," said Walker. "Your fastball is your fastball that given day and it needs to be located regardless. I think, for the most part, that's what we need to get back to and that's something we're focusing on is fastball command and pitching inside a little more aggressively."
Through 19 games Blue Jays starters have pitched 103 2/3 innings, averaging less than 5 2/3 innings per start. A team with playoff aspirations needs more.
R.A. Dickey is presented with the next opportunity to join Buehrle in bucking the troubling trend. He starts Tuesday night's series opener at home with Baltimore.
NAVARRO'S STRANGE ALLERGY
If you've been to a Blue Jays game and noticed that Dioner Navarro kicks away the catcher's box chalk outline before kneeling for first inning warm up pitches, there's a good reason.
Navarro's allergic to chalk.
The problem dates back years to Navarro's minor league days. He would come home after games with skin cracks on his hands. His wife put two and two together since Navarro would always swipe at the dirt to improve his grip, and she suggested he be tested for allergies.
Now it's habit for Navarro to kick away the chalk before the game begins.