NEW YORK -- Yankees left-handed reliever Chasen Shreve, who entered in relief of starter Ivan Nova in the seventh inning of Wednesday's 8-4 loss to the Blue Jays, allowed his sixth and seventh home runs in a 19-inning span this season. The dingers expanded Toronto's lead to 7-1, essentially putting the game out of reach despite the Yanks' three solo home runs over the next three innings.
Early in the season, when Shreve found himself fighting a maddening funk in which he allowed five home runs across 5 2/3 innings, he was a victim of his own aggression. Then, Shreve was getting clobbered on fastballs early in the count, especially on the first pitch.
But Wednesday presented a different kind of struggle for Shreve, who was charged with three runs in one inning and saw his ERA rise to 5.21. Entering the game, more than 90 percent of his sliders put in play resulted in ground balls. But it was Shreve's slider that did him in against the Blue Jays, as both of the home runs he allowed came courtesy of that pitch.
"I think earlier in the year, it was fastballs, for sure," Shreve said. "So we started throwing more offspeed [pitches] early. Today, I just fell behind and my stuff wasn't great. So I hung a couple of sliders."
The other major difference between Shreve's misfortunes on Wednesday and his previous struggles was their placement during at-bats. Shreve explained on May 13, after it seemed as if he'd worked past his issues, that a big contributor to his trouble was that he was getting hit hard on first pitches. But that wasn't the case on Wednesday. Russell Martin's home run came on a 1-2 pitch, and both Justin Smoak's double and Michael Saunders' home run came on full counts.
It seems that the biggest issue Shreve has had over the past two seasons is pinpointing exactly what his issue is. Last year, he struggled with control, walking more than five batters per nine innings. This season, he has significantly cut down on his walks, but with that progress has come a flat fastball that isn't fooling opposing hitters. Just when it seemed he may have overcome that, the Blue Jays jumped all over his sliders.
When this many factors combine to hound a player, the best way to approach the issue is to look at mechanics, at least in Joe Girardi's book. Specifically, the Yankees manager said he thinks Shreve needs to get ahead earlier in counts so he doesn't need to force pitches into the zone late, as he did on Wednesday.
But, as Girardi conceded, it doesn't matter if you miss early or you miss late. When you miss, bad things happen.
"If you don't make pitches in this league, you give up home runs," Girardi said. "Or doubles. Or hits. It's the bottom line. Whether you don't make it early or you don't make it late, it's still not throwing it where you want to. And we have to get better at that with him."
Nick Suss is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.