Blue Jays drop series opener to Braves
McGowan falters early; offense stifled by Atlanta pitching
TORONTO -- Nothing that could've possibly been said in a hitters meeting would've been enough to overcome Atlanta's Jair Jurrjens on Friday night. That offensive surge the Blue Jays had been enjoying suddenly went missing in a dominating performance from the Braves' rookie pitcher.
Toronto's hitters were blindsided by an arm they hadn't seen before, slipping to a 4-0 Interleague loss to Atlanta at Rogers Centre. Jurrjens actually did the unthinkable, overshadowing the much-hyped reunion of Jays manager Cito Gaston and Braves skipper Bobby Cox on a true Flashback Friday.
Gaston is in his second tour of managerial duty with the Jays, who he guided to the 1992 World Series crown against Cox's Braves. Of course, that was a long time ago, in an era far, far away. Toronto and Atlanta have since taken different courses -- the Braves piling up playoff appearances and the Jays tending to take October off.
The Blue Jays (38-43) hoped to contend for a postseason slot this year, but first-half issues on offense have sent the club tumbling into last place in the American League East. Gaston assumed the manager's job a week ago and has made it his goal to help revive the struggling offense and, in a perfect world, the franchise.
With the latest loss, Toronto owns a 3-4 record under Gaston, who said he held a pregame meeting with the hitters on Thursday to address certain offensive issues. Whatever Gaston said behind closed doors appeared to work in a victory over the Reds, but the results were short-lived in light of Jurrjens' outing one day later.
"Aside from tonight, offensively we've done a much better job," Toronto center fielder Vernon Wells said. "Guys are being a little more aggressive. Guys are taking more chances and, tonight, the guy on the other side of it did a good job of keeping the ball down.
"When you're able to do that, and you get ahead of hitters, you can kind of make them swing at your pitches."
Gaston used the same lineup on Friday that he featured in each of the past three games against the Reds. It's easy to understand why he stuck with that particular nine, considering they churned out 26 runs on 40 hits for a .354 team average in the series against Cincinnati.
That all went for naught against Jurrjens, who sliced his way through 13 Toronto hitters before relinquishing a hit. The 22-year-old right-hander kept the Blue Jays guessing with a strong changeup and Jurrjens abused the Rogers Centre infield with a wave of groundball outs -- 15 on the night.
Hitting with runners in scoring position has been a constant problem for the Jays this season, but that wasn't the case against the Braves (40-41). Then again, that was a problem in itself, seeing as the Blue Jays never advanced a runner beyond first base in the loss.
Still, Gaston was concentrating on the positives.
"It's been one step forward, one step back," Gaston said. "But, if you look at the overall play of it, I think we're making some progress here. Certain guys are stepping forward and hitting the ball a little bit better. Even the way they carry themselves out there, I think, is different than maybe a week or so ago."
That's all well and good, but Toronto's composure didn't translate into a win this time around, thanks to Jurrjens and Braves slugger Mark Teixeira.
Atlanta wasted little time in getting on the board against the Jays, plating a pair of runs in the opening inning. With two outs and a runner on second base, Teixeira pounded a 2-1 offering from Jays starter Dustin McGowan deep to right field for a two-run homer -- the first baseman's 15th of the season.
In the third inning, Teixeira put the Blue Jays behind, 3-0, with a double that split the gap in left-center field, scoring Gregor Blanco from first. Those two hits by Teixeira -- formerly of the Texas Rangers -- gave him a .313 average with 16 home runs and 44 RBIs in 40 career games against Toronto.
"He's always hit us," Gaston said. "He hit us when he was in Texas and he certainly hasn't stopped. Guys like that, if they know they hit a team really well, right away there's a lot of confidence going before the game even starts."
As the game wore on, it would've been understandable if Toronto's confidence probably faded.
The Blue Jays notched just three singles off Jurrjens (8-3), who leads the Majors in wins by a rookie and hasn't allowed a run over the last 21 2/3 innings across his past three starts. Jurrjens finished with three strikeouts and issued one walk, using a pitch-to-contact style that Toronto was never able to solve.
"He didnt really make too many mistakes," Wells said. "He was living on the edges, living down in the strike zone. When you couple that with movement and changing speeds, that's going to happen from time to time. He did his job and kept us off-balance."
The Braves added one more run against McGowan (6-6), who finished with four strikeouts and three walks over 7 1/3 innings. It was only the second home loss for McGowan in his past nine appearances, and he might've earned a win on this night had the offense offered some support.
But this game belonged to Jurrjens.
"We just couldn't get anything going tonight," Gaston said. "If we can hold the opposition to four runs a game, I'll take my chances every night. We just didn't hit tonight, but that kid pitched a great game."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.