BOSTON -- Toronto's rotation appeared headed for a meltdown in June when the club lost three of its starters within the span of five days.
Fortunately for the Blue Jays, that hasn't been the case as both Carlos Villanueva and Aaron Laffey have stepped up to help fill the void.
The two hurlers have combined to go 5-1 with a 2.53 ERA while posting seven quality starts in nine outings. They are one of the main reasons why the Blue Jays have been able to remain within striking distance of the American League Wild Card despite the series of devastating injuries.
"Honestly, they've somewhat exceeded [my expectations] because it's not just inside of a given game, but it's now the consistency with three, four starts in a row that they've put up," manager John Farrell said. "They've not only kept the game in check, but they've worked deep into games.
"In their own style, they've been able to manage to the lineup and get through it three times. It's very encouraging."
Their success could not have come at a better time for a rotation that has Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison on the 15-day disabled list.
Despite both pitchers having spent time in the bullpen this season, they've been able to get stretched out enough to pitch deep into games. Laffey and Villanueva have thrown at least six innings in all but two of their starts, which has helped ease the burden on the relievers. It's everything Farrell could have asked for and more.
"If they can give us six innings, it will create some consistency and avoid those days where you've got to go to the bullpen in the fourth inning, and then you're trying to play catch up," Farrell said. "Particularly when we don't have that one guy that's going to give the bullpen a night off each time through the rotation.
"We have the capability of it, but it's not like we have a guy that can go out every time out and he's going seven-to-nine innings each time, to kind of plan for that down day. We'll take six innings each time out."
Morrow back on track; Bautista making strides
BOSTON -- Brandon Morrow's rehab schedule is back on track following a brief setback because of spasms in his lower back.
Toronto's right-hander is working his way back from a strained left oblique muscle. Earlier this week, he was temporarily shut down because of a back issue, but has since returned to form.
Morrow returned to the mound Saturday morning at the club's Minor League complex in Dunedin, Fla., and everything went according to plan.
"He threw a 42-pitch, all-pitch bullpen [session] and came out of it fine," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "He threw his 'pen on Saturday ... and came out of it feeling fine. So right now, we're probably looking at Tuesday or Wednesday as his [batting practice] session."
Morrow likely will repeat the step of facing live hitters a couple of times before going on an official rehab assignment. He is expected to make three to five rehab starts, which would put him in line for a mid-to-late August return.
Jose Bautista also has made positive strides as he attempts to work his way back from a sprained left wrist. Bautista suffered the injury on July 16 in New York while taking a swing against Yankees right-hander David Robertson.
The Toronto slugger is wearing a soft cast to protect the damaged area, but is making progress as he advances through various stages of treatment.
"Two days ago, went through some strengthening exercises with the hand, and as any injury would have, there's a little bit of stiffness that resulted from it," Farrell said. "But with treatment, it gets kicked out of there the same day. He has yet to do any rotational type work with his hand, but he's further along than any of the medical staff envisioned after that swing that night in New York."
Farrell added that it was still too early to say whether Bautista would require a rehab stint or if he would be ready once the 15 days on the disabled list expires on Aug. 1.
Hot-hitting Arencibia moves up to No. 5 spot
BOSTON -- Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia is in the middle of another one of his hot streaks at the plate.
Arencibia entered Sunday hitting .353 (12-for-34) with three home runs, three doubles and seven RBIs in his past 11 games. That has resulted in a promotion to the fifth spot in the batting order, which is the type of run-producing role that the sophomore player relishes.
"That's where I want to be," Arencibia said. "It's one of the things I've always been able to do and throughout the season, regardless of what kind of streak I get into or anything like that, is if you look at my numbers, I've always hit better with runners in scoring position.
"I think sometimes lower in the lineup, it's tougher. Obviously, we have some good bats, but when I was moved up higher in the lineup, that's when I was able to win the Player of the Week and I was able to produce. I feel like I'm one of those guys."
Arencibia has spent most of the season hitting near the bottom of the order, but ranks among the leaders for catchers in multiple offensive categories. He's second in doubles (14) and second in RBIs (45), while also ranking third in homers (14), slugging percentage (.456) and extra-base hits (28).
Those numbers are aided by the fact that the Miami native is hitting at a .344 clip (21-for-61) with six home runs and 35 RBIs while batting with runners in scoring position.
"You're never satisfied and there's a lot of opportunities that I've had and adjustments that I could have made, but you learn from all of the mistakes that you do," Arencibia said. "I know that I'm up there in a lot of the categories, but it's just about helping the team win.
"At the end of the day, if those numbers are helping the team win, then those are meaningful numbers. If it's me just going out there in a 10-0 game and not doing anything, then that's not what matters to me."