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DETROIT — There was a hint of optimism around the Blue Jays as they opened the second half of the season here in the Motor City.
A solid effort from previously injured starter Aaron Sanchez on Friday in a win to begin the three-game series was part of it, but so too was the knowledge that this team at least appeared to be finally getting healthy.
Both the abbreviated win streak and the shift towards health took a beating in Game 2 on Saturday evening, one the direct result of the other, as the Tigers rolled to an 11-1 win, sending the Jays back to the drawing board in its quest for a much-needed winning streak.
This one was over early.
Starting pitcher Francisco Liriano lasted just 52 pitches, or two innings plus three batters, before he came out with neck tightness. Were that — the loss of the day’s starting pitcher — the extent of the damage, things might not have been so bad. But there was also the matter of the big, early deficit he left behind.
Liriano faced just 13 batters and walked four of them leaving with none out in the third, down 2-0 and the bases loaded with a 2-0 count on J.D. Martinez that he turned over to Mike Bolsinger.
Liriano wound up being charged with five earned runs when Bolsinger allowed all three inherited runners to score.
There was no immediate indication from the team how serious this neck tightness is for Liriano. That will be addressed Sunday, but the veteran lefty was sent back to the hotel before the locker room opened to the media so he was not there to comment for himself.
The fact that Liriano’s status is once again unsure puts the Jays rotation in question. And that seems typical of this entire season for Toronto, where injuries have been an issue all year.
What looks like a return to full health by Sanchez — who had been frustrated with blisters issues all season — spurred on talk of finally putting a run together and making a run at getting back in the picture for a wild card.
Liriano’s injury, at least initially, puts even that talk on a side burner.
“You could see it started to affect him,” manager John Gibbons said after the game of Liriano’s neck. “Hopefully, it’s no big deal.”
Liriano certainly couldn’t keep the good feeling from Friday going through the second game.
Before the neck issues became apparent, Liriano gave up a first-inning homer to Nicholas Castellanos and then another run in the second on a single, a walk, and another single from Jose Iglesias to score Mikie Mahtook from second.
But in the third, either the neck discomfort kicked in or Liriano simply reverted to that bad habit of losing the strike zone as he walked the first three batters he faced in the inning.
On the pitch that would take him to 2-0 on Martinez, Liriano seemed to fall off the side of the mound in his follow-through.
Catcher Russ Martin, who knows Liriano well from their days in the Pirates organization, was up and looking into the dugout two steps from the plate as if to say: ‘You have to come and get this guy.’
Liriano left and Martinez greeted Bolsinger with a crisp single to left to score two. A sac fly by Mahtook plated the third run in the inning and the Tigers were out to a tidy 5-0 lead.
Bolsinger stayed in the game for 3.2 innings and eventually surrendered ground to the Tigers himself, giving up three more in the three-run sixth before departing.
Iglesias, who had three hits on the night, scored the first run of the frame from third with one out on a Justin Upton groundout as Jays’ third baseman Josh Donaldson turned down the opportunity to come home on what would have been a close play and instead took the sure out at first.
The next hitter, Miguel Cabrera, took Bolsinger deep to cash in two more and the rout was on.
It was a long afternoon for the hundreds that made the drive down from Toronto and bolstered the Tigers’ crowd to a season’s second best crowd of 40,036. Only the Tigers’ season opener had a bigger number.
For Fulmer, that was more than enough support as he limited Toronto to just a single run on two hits over eight innings for his 10th win of the year against six losses.
The two hits over eight innings represents his best outing of the season. He’s gone eight or more on four previous occasions this year, but never with the kind of dominance he showed Saturday.
Toronto’s only run came in the fourth when Jose Bautista led off with a walk, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on a groundout by Donaldson.
The Tigers held one of those closed-door meetings prior to the game and obviously had a productive chat.
The teams will decide the series tomorrow with Toronto sending Marco Estrada to the mound and Detroit responding with Anibal Sanchez.
MARTIN KNEW SOMETHING WAS OFF
Russell Martin knew something was off. He just didn’t know what.
Francisco Liriano will never be lauded for his pinpoint control. He’s more than capable of getting a little wild from time to time, but three consecutive walks to start the third inning suggested to the Blue Jays catcher that something was amiss.
It also marked the end of Liriano’s day.
“He didn’t look comfortable on the mound,” Martin said of Liriano, who lasted three batters into the third inning before his abbreviated days work was ended by what the team is calling neck tightness.
“It looked like he was pulling off a little bit and kind of falling off towards the third-base side,” Martin said. “He does that every once in a while, but not as consistently as he was doing it today. I’ve seen him battle through some things but he definitely looked like he wasn’t 100% comfortable.”
Martin never did hear exactly what the problem was, straight from the horse’s mouth, but he backed the decision made to call it a day early.
“You don’t want to be too aggressive when you’re not feeling right,” Martin said. “I think he did the right thing. Hopefully, it’s not too serious.
“His velocity was fine. It just didn’t look like he was finishing his pitches like he normally does. But he’s not typically the most pinpoint accurate pitcher. He’s a stuff guy. Good slider, good change and good fastball in the mix. But something was just a little bit off today.”
The short start by the Jays starter puts a little added pressure on Marco Estrada who starts the three-game series finale on Sunday.
The bullpen had to eat up six innings Saturday but just coming off the all-star break, it is pretty rested, so manager John Gibbons doesn’t foresee it being a big deal.
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