Blue Jays lean on pitching in important stretch

Blue Jays lean on pitching in important stretch

DETROIT -- Amid the traffic jam in the American League Wild Card standings, Toronto opens its longest road trip of the season with a chance to gain ground on some of the league's top teams -- or at least try to keep pace.

"It's a big stretch, we know that," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of the 10-game trip, which has stops in Detroit, Boston and Cleveland. "The beginning of the month was a big stretch and we didn't make up much ground, I know that. And of course, you've got the [non-waiver] Trade Deadline looming and all that. So this is an important month for us to make a move."

The Blue Jays haven't given the impression that they'll be big sellers at the Deadline, so the road to July 31 may not be as nerve-wracking as it is for other clubs on the bubble. But the Blue Jays still have something to prove, sitting five games back of a Wild Card spot and eight and a half behind the Red Sox in the AL East entering Friday's action.

Toronto's starting rotation, now back intact after several injuries in the first half, may have the most room to improve after finishing fourth in the Majors in wins (66) and ERA (3.64) last year. The starters are 27th in wins (23) and 19th in ERA (4.74) this season.

Gibbons knows overcoming the deficit in the standings, particularly starting with a long road trip, is a difficult task. But he's hoping he can lean on his group of starters, which is the same except for the absence of R.A. Dickey, to turn things around.

"Pitching over the long haul is always what wins it for you," Gibbons said. "We have to get that stretch where two or three or four outings in a row, they all kind of get on that roll. It's definitely not impossible."

Worth noting

• Reliever Joe Smith, currently on the 10-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation, is scheduled to pitch Friday night for Triple-A Buffalo. Depending on his results, he could rejoin the Blue Jays soon.

"If he feels well [Friday], there's no reason why he couldn't be here Saturday or Sunday," Gibbons said.

• There were plenty of smiles and handshakes in the Blue Jays' clubhouse around 4 p.m. Friday when Devon Travis walked in. Travis, who is on the 60-day DL after right knee surgery in June, is still several weeks away from playing. But Gibbons said he saw Travis walking up stairs recently and that he's making progress.

• A Metallica concert at Comerica Park on Wednesday left center field in rough shape, with worn-out patches where the stage had been. Heavy rains during the week haven't helped either. Toronto center fielder Kevin Pillar said he'll likely avoid standing in the softest spots, but otherwise the conditions won't phase him.

"I might position myself a little differently, but I'm going to go out there and play like nothing's wrong," he said.

Jordan Horrobin is a reporter for MLB.com based in Detroit. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.