Toronto's Tallet in total control
Blue Jays support southpaw with three home runs
TORONTO -- Before Tuesday's game, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said the evening's starter, left-hander Brian Tallet, had pitched better than his .500 record indicated.
The outcome of the Blue Jays' tilt with the Reds at Rogers Centre helped proved that. Tallet had a great start, but some struggles by the bullpen nearly cost him. Fortunately for Tallet and the Jays, the team held on for a 7-5 victory.
On Toronto's recent Interleague road trip, a combination of National League rules and a string of extra-innings games meant Gaston could not manage his pitching staff as expected. Tuesday's game showed that the team still is feeling the effects.
In Tallet's previous start, which came in Philadelphia, he was cruising through the first five innings, having allowed only one run in a hitter-friendly ballpark. But when the Jays (39-33) had a chance to score in the top of the sixth inning with Tallet on deck, Gaston opted to take the pitcher out of the game in favor of pinch-hitter Joe Inglett.
Since Tallet (5-4) threw only 76 pitches in that outing, Gaston chose to have the lefty pitch on only three days' rest against the Reds while holding him to a pitch count to avoid taxing Tallet's arm.
On Tuesday, Tallet shut out the Reds (34-35) for six innings, allowing only three hits -- none for extra bases -- and issuing one walk. His seven strikeouts tied a career high, which he last achieved on May 9 in Oakland.
The southpaw has struggled in early innings at times -- he gave up three runs in the first inning of the Jays' June 4 contest with the Angels and allowed the Marlins to score three runs in the second inning on June 14 -- but he began Tuesday's affair by striking out the side. He did not allow a single baserunner until the third inning, when Cincinnati's Chris Dickerson smacked a line drive to left field for a base hit.
"I had good location with my fastball and my changeup, and then threw in some cutters and some sliders here and there," Tallet said. "What set up everything was having fastball command, being able to throw the ball on the outside corner and throw the ball on the inside corner. If I'm not throwing strikes, my changeup's not near as good because now they don't have to respect my fastball."
But Gaston wanted to avoid overworking Tallet and putting him at risk of injury, so Tallet was not sent out to pitch in the seventh, despite having thrown only 90 pitches.
"Three days' rest -- that's all it was," Gaston said. "We certainly need to win a ballgame, or want to win a ballgame, but we also need to have him the rest of the year. So he's got to kind of watch it."
Gaston turned to the bullpen in the seventh, and that's where the trouble started.
With Tallet on the mound, the Jays got out to a 6-0 lead thanks to a trio of home runs and an RBI single. Scott Rolen homered to center field on an 0-2 pitch from Reds starter Micah Owings (4-8) in the second inning, and Rod Barajas hit another solo blast in the fourth with the Jays ahead 3-0. Marco Scutaro added a two-run shot to the Jays' 4-0 advantage in the sixth, plating Barajas.
But with Tallet out of the game, the Reds began to mount a comeback.
Cincinnati loaded the bases against right-hander Shawn Camp on a single and a pair of walks with no outs in the seventh. Lefty Jesse Carlson took over from there, but he gave up a double to Jay Bruce that scored two runs, narrowing Toronto's lead to 6-2.
Back-to-back sacrifice flies against Carlson by Adam Rosales and Dickerson plated a pair of runs for the Reds, closing the gap to 6-4.
After the Jays added a run in the seventh, the Reds once again put themselves within two in the eighth inning with right-hander Brandon League on the mound. League opened the frame by giving up a free pass to Jerry Hairston Jr., who came around to score after a stolen base and a pair of groundouts, putting the score at 7-5.
Right-hander Jason Frasor, who is filling in as the team's closer after Scott Downs landed on the disabled list with a sprained toe, allowed a base hit, but he pitched a scoreless ninth, becoming the only reliever of the four the Jays used to not give up a run.
In total, the bullpen gave up five runs on three hits and three walks.
"Base on balls -- I think probably most of them scored tonight," Gaston said. "We didn't throw strikes tonight, but we managed to squeeze through it."
The rough night from the bullpen follows a road trip in which Toronto's relievers were called upon more than expected. Three of the Jays' previous six games had gone into extra innings, and rookie starter Brad Mills lasted only 3 2/3 innings on Friday in his Major League debut, leaving the bullpen to finish the game.
The Blue Jays had an off-day on Monday, but the bullpen still could be feeling fatigued.
"It wouldn't hurt if we'd had two [off-days] in a row," Gaston said with a chuckle. "They've pitched a lot. Now that we don't have Downs out there ... they've been taxed quite a bit."
While the bullpen did struggle, Barajas, for one, was glad the Jays did not risk losing Tallet to injury by demanding another inning or two from the lefty who began the season in the bullpen.
"He's going on three days' rest and he's not a guy who's been doing this for a long time," Barajas said. "He's been a reliever for us, and the last thing you want is to see somebody else go down because of the amount of pitches they've thrown in a matter of four days.
"We have complete confidence in our bullpen to go out there and close the game out for us. ... I have confidence in the guys that come in and do that. There's going to be times when they're going to struggle, and it's a good thing we had a six-run lead."
Erika Gilbert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.