Jays miss chance to gain ground in East

Jays miss chance to gain ground

TORONTO -- Attempting to solve the Blue Jays' offensive issues is an ongoing assignment for manager Cito Gaston. Toronto has shown some progress over the past two months with Gaston back at the helm, but one area continues to be a real head-scratcher.

The Blue Jays' lumber seems to work about as well as spaghetti any time the lineup is asked to face a left-handed pitcher. The problem reared its ugly head again on Wednesday night, when Toronto took a 5-1 loss after an anemic showing against Yankees southpaw Andy Pettitte.

An abbreviated outing by an admittedly anxious David Purcey certainly didn't do Toronto any favors, but the rookie didn't have the luxury of run support, either. In the wake of the loss to the Yankees, the Jays were quick to cite Pettitte's performance, but they have tipped their caps to lefties all too often this year.

"It seems to be a problem that we can't solve," Gaston said. "I don't know what it is about them. It's been that way for a long time here."

Actually, the Blue Jays (65-61), who missed a chance to move into a tie with the Yankees for third place in the American League East with the loss, handled left-handers for much of last season. The latest defeat gave Toronto a 13-20 mark against left-handed starters this year -- a noticeable dropoff from the club's 26-17 record against southpaws a year ago.

Heading into Wednesday's tilt against the Yankees (67-59), the Blue Jays owned a .250 team average and .360 slugging percentage with 15 home runs and 110 runs scored against southpaws this season. Last year, Toronto hit .296 with a .484 slugging percentage, 44 homers and 212 runs against lefties.

They insist that the issue isn't affecting their mind-set.

"I don't think about it going into a game," said catcher Rod Barajas, shrugging off the team's struggles with southpaws. "I don't think, 'We're going to have a tough time scoring runs' when we have a lefty. It's just the way it's worked out.

"I don't know if it's us or if it's them pitching that well, but it's just a matter of us being confident. The next time we get a lefty, we need to make sure we go out there and know that we can do it."

On this evening, an argument could definitely be made that Pettitte (13-9) was simply too strong. The veteran logged seven innings, scattering five hits with four strikeouts and no walks. For the first five innings, he blanked the Blue Jays, who managed just two hits over that span.

Pettitte didn't flinch until the sixth, when Toronto pieced together three consecutive singles to plate its solitary run. Right fielder Alex Rios staved off a shutout by lining a pitch from Pettitte into center field to score David Eckstein. Pettitte then retired the final five batters he faced.

The Blue Jays were left guessing for much of the night.

"That cutter comes out of his hand, and it looks like a great pitch to hit," Barajas said. "It looks like it's going to be in the inner third of the plate, but by the time it's done breaking, and [with] all of its movement, it ends up being in, off the plate.

"He's deceptive. He's able to make you go out of the strike zone and swing at pitches."

Purcey (2-4) seemingly had the opposite results. The 6-foot-5 southpaw struggled with his command, and the Yankees weren't biting, putting Purcey consistently behind in the count. It made for a short outing for Purcey, who exited after allowing five runs in just four innings -- his first start under five frames in his last five trips up the hill.

New York loaded the bases with three straight base hits to open the game and cashed in a pair of first-inning runs on a sacrifice fly from Jason Giambi and an RBI single by Xavier Nady. In the fourth inning, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter drilled the first offering he saw from Purcey deep to right for a two-run homer, putting the Jays behind, 5-0.

"I was just rushing, and it was a quick night," Purcey said. "That's how it goes. I wasn't getting the job done, so they got me out of there. I was just a little too anxious. I was trying to do too much on the mound."

As they are known to do, the Yankees took advantage of Purcey's mistakes.

"With a team like the Yankees, you can't do that," Gaston said. "They will work a pitcher pretty well, and that's what they did. On the other hand, too, you've got to give the guy on the other side some credit."

That'd be Pettitte, just like the many left-handers before him.

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