On Wednesday night, pitching in only his 55th professional game, Rzepczynski was pinned with a hard-luck loss against the American League East-leading Yankees, who dealt the Blue Jays an 8-4 defeat to take both ends of an abbreviated two-game set. A late-inning lapse by Toronto's bullpen spoiled what had been a sound effort for the rookie left-hander.
The loss dropped the Blue Jays' record to 2-7 against the Yankees and 12-24 against division rivals this season. Toronto slipped to 51-56 overall, falling a season-high 14 games behind the top spot in the AL East. The Jays' hopes of making a run at the playoffs have faded quickly, and manager Cito Gaston is already wondering who else will claim the division crown.
"It's going to be interesting to see how it comes down in the end with them and Boston," said Gaston, referring to New York.
The past few months have also left the Jays looking even further down the road. The wave of injuries that have taken a toll on the pitching staff this season has forced the organization to turn to six rookies -- five who made their Major League debuts this season. Collectively, those rookies have gone 23-17 with a 4.15 ERA, showing promise for the rotation's future.
Blue Jays rookies Scott Richmond, Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero and Brad Mills were expected to possibly see the Majors this season, and each has spent time with Toronto. On the other end of the spectrum is Rzepczynski -- a fifth-round selection in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft who was not in the discussion for rotation jobs during the spring.
Injuries opened the door for Rzepczynski, who fell to 1-3 on Wednesday.
"He probably wouldn't have been called up -- absolutely," Gaston said.
Against the Yankees (65-42), Rzepczynski scattered five hits and lasted two batters into the seventh inning. Through six frames, the lefty was in line for the win after limiting New York's potent lineup to two third-inning runs. In the seventh, with the Jays clinging to a 3-2 lead, Rzepczynski surrendered a game-tying homer to Nick Swisher and a double to Melky Cabrera before being pulled.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi sounded intrigued by Rzepczynski, who finished with seven strikeouts and one walk.
"We saw him a couple of times," Girardi said. "The third time through the order helped, and we started swinging the bats a little bit better. He's got kind of a funny arm angle and he kind of slings it at you, and the slider has big depth at times. He's got some interesting stuff."
Following Rzepczynski's exit, Gaston turned to right-hander Josh Roenicke, who was acquired from the Reds in the non-waiver Deadline deal that sent third baseman Scott Rolen to Cincinnati. Two batters into his first home outing for the Jays, Roenicke surrendered a run-scoring single to Hideki Matsui that put the Yankees ahead, 4-3.
Roenicke allowed two more hits and issued a pair of walks before escaping the inning, helping the Yankees run to a 6-3 advantage in the process. Over the final two frames, New York tacked on a pair of runs, including one on a ninth-inning solo homer from Johnny Damon, who finished the game with three hits and three RBIs to up his season average against Toronto to .353.
"I think we'd better come up with something else to throw him," Gaston said.
The Blue Jays used three runs -- one on a solo homer from Adam Lind in the fifth inning -- to chase Yankees right-hander Sergio Mitre from the contest after just 4 1/3 innings. Toronto shortstop Marco Scutaro added a solo homer off reliever Alfredo Aceves in the seventh to cut New York's lead to 6-4, but the damage had already been done.
Despite how the box score appears, Gaston felt Rzepczynski turned in a solid outing.
"He pitched good," Gaston said. "I know the inning before I took him out of the ballgame, he started to get the ball up a little bit. That's why I actually had somebody going when he went back out there. He pitched a pretty good ballgame. He pitched well enough to win a ballgame -- that's for sure."
Rzepczynski, who posted a 2.76 ERA in his ascent through four Minor League tiers over the past three seasons, is now firmly on the Jays' radar. The lefty is learning on the fly, but it has been outings like the one he just logged against the Yankees that have Rzepczynski believing he can last at baseball's highest level.
"It's a little bit [tougher], just with being such a quick jump from where I was last year to this year," Rzepczynski said. "But I feel like I can pitch at any level, so the confidence is not the thing. It's just fine-tuning everything."