The Blue Jays reside at the top of the American League East after an 8-4 victory over the Orioles on Friday night and -- thanks to a strong offense -- have been surviving a series of blows to their pitching staff all season. Behind Halladay, Toronto's current rotation is a mix of three rookies and one converted reliever.
Come Saturday afternoon, the Jays will send untested rookie Robert Ray to the hill against Baltimore for his big league debut. Toronto isn't sure what to expect from Ray, whose promotion from Triple-A Las Vegas on Friday came as an unexpected surprise for the right-hander, making the eight innings Halladay logged against the Orioles that much more important.
As pitchers have shuffled to and fro between the rotation, the disabled list and the Minor Leagues, Halladay has been a picture of consistency. He's the first to admit he has battled some early location issues, but the ace has lasted at least seven innings in each of his first six starts of this season, finding his way into the win column five times already.
"I think everybody would like to have about 10 Docs around," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "But that's impossible. We do have one, so we've got to enjoy him."
In helping the Blue Jays to a 16-9 record, marking the team's best run through a season's first 25 games since posting an identical record in 2001, Halladay (5-1) has reached five wins faster than any other season in his career. With his latest victory, Halladay also joined Kansas City's Zack Greinke as the only pitchers to have that many wins already this year.
Against the Orioles (9-14), Halladay wasn't the sharpest he has ever been, but he was more than effective in picking up his eighth straight win over Baltimore -- a streak that dates back to the 2006 campaign. The horse of Toronto's staff allowed a pair of runs in the first and eighth innings, and held Baltimore off the scoreboard in the six frames between.
That allowed Toronto's offense ample time to go to work.
"Doc, he went out and was Doc," Gaston said. "He gave up a couple quick runs, but held them right there until we could come back."
The Jays broke through for four runs against Orioles left-hander Mark Hendrickson (1-4) in the fourth inning -- courtesy of three consecutive run-scoring hits from Scott Rolen, Kevin Millar and Rod Barajas -- easily overcoming the two Halladay allowed on a homer by Baltimore's Nick Markakis in the first.
In the seventh inning, Adam Lind added a solo home run, and Barajas later contributed an RBI double to up Toronto's lead to 6-2. Those add-on runs -- not to mention the two plated by the Jays an inning later -- proved crucial in the end, considering Baltimore pieced together a brief two-run rally against Halladay in the eighth inning.
With one out in the eighth, Halladay gave up a single to Adam Jones and then issued a walk to Markakis to put two runners on base. Aubrey Huff brought one run home with a base hit, and after a passed ball allowed the O's to advance runners to second and third base, Halladay surrendered another run on a groundout.
With Halladay's pitch count climbing, Gaston strolled out to the mound to make sure the pitcher was all right. Halladay said he was, and he stayed on the mound and finished the frame by inducing an inning-ending ground ball off the bat of Ty Wigginton. Halladay ended with 14 outs via the grounder, six strikeouts and one walk in the win.
"You want to finish every inning you start," Halladay said. "Fortunately, Cito gave me the chance, especially after making it a little interesting -- he let me stay out there. Any time you go out, you want to finish the inning and get yourself out of trouble. I was just glad I got that chance."
Halladay's durability consistently allows the Jays to provide rest for their bullpen, which is being relied upon more this season in light of the rotation issues. Toronto is awaiting the return of a slew of injured starters (Ricky Romero, Casey Janssen and Jesse Litsch) and is relying on left-hander Brian Tallet (a long reliever by trade) and rookies Scott Richmond, Brett Cecil and Ray to fill out its staff.
The Jays need Halladay's consistency now more than ever, but he said he doesn't feel any added pressure when he walks up the hill.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's the same," Halladay said. "You go out and try to go as far as you can, as hard as you can -- that's always your focus. As far as the team is concerned, it might change. But as far as my perspective, it's got to be the same. You have to approach it the same. You really can't think about having to go a certain distance or anything.
"You have to go out and try to play the same way and expect that those guys are going to pitch well for you. That's the best option. Like we've said from Spring Training, the talent is there. It's just a matter of getting that consistently all year.
"The talent is there to where every night we go out there we feel like we have a chance to win."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less