Bats unable to get on track against Lester
Cecil allows only one run over six frames in hard-luck loss
TORONTO -- Aaron Hill stepped out of the batter's box and flipped his bat across the turf, sending it skipping towards the Blue Jays' dugout. The second baseman then fired his helmet in the same direction, wearing a look of pure disgust as he made his way back to his position.
Hill's angry reaction stemmed from the pitch he just watched go by -- a sweeping curveball that spun free of Jon Lester's left hand and snapped sharply into the glove of Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek for a called third strike -- to bring an abrupt end to the sixth inning on Wednesday night.
"He had everything in any count," said Hill, who slumped back into his chair in front of his locker, still looking baffled by Lester's performance in the wake of Toronto's 2-0 loss to Boston. "He just absolutely dominated us tonight -- that's the bottom line."
That was an unfortunate reality for Blue Jays starter Brett Cecil, who had his mind on revenge and delivered with a strong six-inning performance of his own against the Red Sox. Cecil was hung with a hard-luck loss, becoming the latest in a line of Toronto starters to miss out on a victory despite a solid outing.
The Jays (10-12) have had bullpen issues to blame and a lack of run support on multiple occasions. This time around, the club's primary problem was simply Lester. The Boston lefty overwhelmed Toronto's lineup for seven innings, yielding just one hit and piling up a season-high 11 strikeouts in a stellar showing that completed a three-game sweep.
What was Lester doing that made him so effective?
"What wasn't he doing?" Hill said. "That's the best I've seen him."
Hill then paused and altered the course of his answer.
"You don't want to give him too much credit, because he's an opposing pitcher," he continued. "There's no excuse for a one-hit, two-hit -- whatever it was."
The Blue Jays, who have lost five games in a row, collected their first hit in the second inning, when Vernon Wells led off with a double. From there, Lester cruised through 19 batters without allowing another hit -- a stretch that only ended when the Red Sox turned to the bullpen in the eighth inning.
With Lester out of the contest, Jays shortstop Alex Gonzalez opened the eighth with a double off right-handed reliever Daniel Bard. Toronto manager Cito Gaston then called upon three left-handed pinch hitters in a row -- Adam Lind, Fred Lewis and Travis Snider. Bard fanned all three in order to escape unscathed.
Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon picked up a save and sealed the defeat by holding Toronto in check in the ninth. With that -- a 17th consecutive inning without a run for the Blue Jays -- Cecil was pinned with the loss. After blanking the Sox (11-11) for five innings, Cecil's lone blemish came courtesy of a run-scoring sacrifice fly from Dustin Pedroia in the sixth.
All Cecil could do was shrug it off, especially in light of Lester's evening.
"He was a few pitches better than I was," Cecil said. "That guy's a great pitcher. Hats off to him. He threw a great game."
Cecil said he was pleased with the way he threw in his second start since being promoted from Triple-A Las Vegas, though. The 23-year-old lefty even admitted that his forgettable showing against the Sox last season (12 runs allowed across nine innings over two starts) was fresh on his mind when he took the mound on Wednesday.
"Absolutely," said Cecil, who allowed five home runs to the Red Sox at Fenway Park on May 20, 2009. "Nobody gets tore up like that last year and doesn't look for a little extra something against the team."
Cecil said he felt like Boston's hitters did not consider him much of a threat last year.
He believes things are different now.
"I feel like I've gained a little bit of their respect this year," Cecil said.
It still did not amount to a win, though.
Cecil's outing fell in line with an unfortunate April trend for the Blue Jays. Through 22 games, Toronto's rotation has turned in 14 quality starts (at least six innings pitched with three runs or fewer allowed), posting a 2.13 ERA in those outings. Nine of those starts have resulted in a loss or a no-decision for the starter.
"I guess the only thing we can take out of it is hopefully our hitters know that if we can go out and get four or five runs, we have a chance to win with the way these guys are pitching," Gaston said. "It's just one of those things. We're just not driving in any runs or getting any hits right now."
And it is frustrating for the Jays' hitters.
"You just wish you could have a walk or a bloop hit or something to get it going," Hill said. "We've had a couple games already where these guys have pitched their butt off and have nothing to show for it.
"But it's not that we didn't swing the bats, we just ran into some tough pitching as well."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.