BAL@TOR: Encarnacion hits first homer of 2014

TORONTO -- Edwin Encarnacion has gotten off to a slow start this season, but it's not exactly unfamiliar territory for a player who has been one of the most reliable hitters in the American League over the past two years.

Encarnacion began his 2013 campaign in a similar fashion. Through 20 games, he was hitting just .200 (15-for-75) with a .592 OPS and four extra-base hits. This year, he has a .228 average with a .661 OPS and seven exta-base hits entering Wednesday evening's game.

The issue has been timing at the plate as Encarnacion admitted he has been starting his swing a little late, but hoped that his three-run home run during Tuesday night's 9-3 win over Baltimore is a sign things are about to change.

"Sometimes, when it's early, you try to do too much and you just have to get your timing right," Encarnacion said. "I know it's going to be right, I just feel a lot better, so I hope to continue to do the same approach I did [Tuesday]."

This isn't an uncommon problem to have early in the season. A lot of hitters across the Majors are battling the same type of issues and that's why one of the general assumptions across baseball every year is that the pitchers have the advantage early in the season.

If Encarnacion is on the verge of heating up at the plate it can only mean good things for the heart of Toronto's lineup. Opposing teams have been consistently pitching around Jose Bautista, but so far Encarnacion has struggled to make them pay by hitting just .185 (5-for-27) with runners in scoring position.

Bautista entered play on Wednesday night with the Major League lead in walks with 25. He has reached base in all of his 20 games this season and a trend has emerged where Bautista can go through multiple at-bats in a game without seeing a good pitch to hit. Once Encarnacion starts hitting the way he's capable, it's very likely that pitchers will think twice before automatically pitching around Bautista.

"I thought he had a good road trip, there were some games he was swinging the bat pretty good," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of Encarnacion. "Normally, that's what gets everybody, it's usually a timing thing.

"Very rarely, you might need a slight mechanical adjustment with hands or something like that. But that's what the pitchers are trying to do to him, mess with your timing. If you're early, you have a chance. If you're late, you have no chance."

Short bench stings Blue Jays late in game

BAL@TOR: Gibbons talks about loss to Orioles

TORONTO -- Carrying a short bench and an eight-man bullpen hurt the Blue Jays late in their 10-8 loss to the Orioles Wednesday night at Rogers Centre.

With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, Jonathan Diaz found himself in an unlikely situation. Under normal circumstances, the Blue Jays would've turned to their bench to pinch-hit for the 5-foot-9, 155-pound infielder, who's hitting .154 on the season. But because they used up their bench players during a seventh-inning rally, the well was dry with the game on the line and Diaz hit into a game-ending double play.

Manager John Gibbons decided go all in with his bench in the seventh in an attempt to seize a golden offensive opportunity with two men on base.

Gibbons sent Moises Sierra to the plate in place of left-handed hitter Ryan Goins to face Baltimore lefty Brian Matusz. The Orioles then replaced Matusz with righty Darren O'Day, and Gibbons immediately responded by replacing Sierra with pinch-hitter Josh Thole. Thole singled to right, driving in one run, and was then replaced by Diaz on the basepaths. In one fell swoop, the entire Blue Jays bench was depleted.

"You try to use your best judgment," Gibbons said. "With two guys on there, you go for it. If one guy's on it's maybe different."

The inability of Toronto's starting rotation to pitch deep into games has been a growing concern as of late, and it's the main reason the Blue Jays decided to carry an eight-man bullpen in the first place. Only Mark Buehrle has averaged more than six innings per start this season, putting an extra strain on the team's relief corps, and creating the need to carry and extra relief arm.

"We need eight guys in the bullpen," said Gibbons. "That's just the way it is. Like it or not, that's the way it is."

By the end of Wednesday's game, Toronto's rotation ranked 27th in the Major Leagues in total innings pitched with 113 2/3.

Francisco making strong first impression with Jays

TOR@CLE: Francisco rips an RBI single into center

TORONTO -- Juan Francisco has made a good first impression with the Blue Jays while filling in for the injured Adam Lind.

Francisco entered play on Wednesday night with four hits in 10 at-bats since being promoted from Triple-A Buffalo. He also has a pair of walks and a triple to go along with one RBI. The sample size is incredibly small but so far he's doing enough to ease the loss of Lind at DH.

Veteran Dan Johnson also received some consideration for the promotion but the call went to Francisco instead after he hit .341 with a .988 OPS in 12 games for the Bisons.

"He's always had a lot of power, he's had some production in the big leagues, bounced around a little bit with Cincinnati, Atlanta and Milwaukee but he's always been able to hit," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said.

Francisco has experience in parts of six seasons in the Major Leagues. He hit 18 home runs in 348 at-bats last year with the Braves and Brewers but was cut by Milwaukee late during Spring Training. That prompted Toronto to sign the corner infielder to a Minor League contract as a way of adding organizational depth.

The Blue Jays likely won't need that many games out of Francisco as the club claims Lind will be back in the relatively near future. Lind, who is dealing with a sore lower back, has been working out at the Blue Jays' Minor League complex in Dunedin, Fla., and is eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list on May 4.

"He's doing his treatment stuff down there," Gibbons said. "He's feeling pretty good, he's feeling better so we don't think it will be a long-term deal. From everything I hear right now, I don't think it will be much longer than (15 days) if it is."