PITTSBURGH -- The performance of the Blue Jays' bullpen went from bad to worse on Saturday night with yet another late-inning meltdown.
Toronto's bullpen has transformed from a noticeable strength into an apparent weakness in just over two weeks. There have been many culprits, but more often than not the results have led to a series of crushing blows.
Aaron Loup and Todd Redmond became the latest victims as they combined to surrender five runs over just 1 2/3 innings as the Blue Jays coughed up a five-run cushion en route to an 8-6 loss at PNC Park.
"We're a little bit shellshocked right now," a visibly frustrated John Gibbons said after the game. "But we have to turn it around. Heck, we just started May."
Toronto's bullpen now has six blown saves over the club's past 15 games. Dating back to the second game of a doubleheader in Minnesota on April 17, the relievers have combined to allow 40 earned runs, 55 hits and 33 walks over the span of 48 1/3 innings. That equates to a 7.45 ERA and a staggering 1.82 WHIP.
Nobody in the bullpen has managed to avoid the recent downturn. Sergio Santos has three blown saves and two losses over that span, Loup has two blown saves and a loss and Brett Cecil has a blown save with six earned runs over his past 3 2/3 innings. The most reliable arm arguably has been Steve Delabar, who has not blown a save opportunity but has nevertheless surrendered three runs over his past 6 1/3 innings.
That has left Gibbons with few options, as most of his moves over the past two weeks have backfired. Last year, the Blue Jays had one of the best bullpens in baseball, but so far this season, no matter what the team has tried to do, it just hasn't worked out.
"It's tough, because it can really spiral on you," said starter R.A. Dickey, who was in line for a victory until the late collapse. "That here-we-go-again syndrome, that likes to creep into the mentality, can start to set in if you're not careful. Those guys down there are really, really, really, good. So we just have to keep encouraging them, keep reminding them, keep giving them the ball, and they'll pitch out of it."
On Saturday night, Loup was called upon in the seventh to protect a 6-2 lead. He entered with a runner on second base and got his first batter to ground out, but he then saw his outing fall apart. In a matter of minutes, Pittsburgh took the lead on a double by Josh Harrison, a single by Neil Walker, a walk to Andrew McCutchen and a double by Jordy Mercer.
The big blow was the one by Mercer, who entered the game on an 0-for-25 skid and with an average of .151. Mercer's shot came with runners on second and third with two outs and a 6-4 score. The double tied the game, and though Loup got out of the inning without any further damage, the tone was set for the rest of the game.
Redmond entered to pitch the eighth inning, and he had about as much success as Loup. Redmond gave up back-to-back singles before Walker put the Pirates in front with a double to the wall in center field. Redmond eventually got out of that jam as well, but by then it was too late.
"We were hoping to get two innings out of him and then see where we're at in the ninth inning if we still had the lead," Gibbons said of Loup. "Even going into tonight, that's the first hit all year he's given up to a right-hander, and he gave up a few. It just blew up on us."
The collapse overshadowed another strong outing by Dickey, who allowed three runs on five hits and four walks over six-plus innings. It was his third consecutive quality start and his fourth of the year as he is beginning to turn things around following a disappointing start to the season.
Dickey remained in the game until he surrendered a leadoff double in the seventh inning. That's when the Blue Jays turned to the normally reliable Loup.
"[Dickey] is a quality pitcher, an All-Star, won 20 games in the big leagues -- and he was on tonight," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "So as soon as he's out, it's just better. It's no knock on anybody else, but it's going to be different. It was tough duty tonight, taking swings at him, the way he was making the ball move, throwing strikes. Anything else, we felt like we had a better chance with."
Despite the pitching woes, Toronto's offense once again did its job, as the club scored at least five runs for the sixth time in the past seven games. Jose Bautista led the way with two hits, including his ninth home run of the season. Bautista now has a career-high 13-game hit streak and has reached base in all of the Blue Jays' first 30 games of the season, which is a club record.
Brett Lawrie and Josh Thole also had multihit games, while Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera and Colby Rasmus added RBIs. The Blue Jays have now lost nine of their past 12 games and have won just two of the past six games in which they have scored at least five runs.
"Every loss is frustrating, but I don't think that we're going to start pointing the fingers at anybody just because we've lost a couple of games in a particular fashion," Bautista said.
"We had plenty of opportunities today to tack on more runs; I grounded out with the bases loaded, just to name one. It's tough, we're not losing any games that are going to build our morale, probably the opposite, but it's done; we already played those games. The only thing we can do is focus on the ones that are coming in the future, beginning with the one tomorrow."