Cecil turns corner as Blue Jays fall to A's

Cecil turns corner as Blue Jays fall to A's

Cecil turns corner as Blue Jays fall to A's
TORONTO -- With his back up against the wall on Tuesday night, Brett Cecil came through with one of his best outings this year.

Toronto's left-hander got the strong start he needed to build his case for a permanent spot in the starting rotation but despite the strong pitching line, still found himself on the outside looking in.

Cecil surrendered just two runs, but didn't receive much run support in a 7-2 loss to the A's in front of 25,686 fans at Rogers Centre.

"Everything was working -- changeup, curveball, cutter was working really well tonight, and fastball," Cecil said. "I felt like I could put pretty much any pitch wherever I wanted. It was really good."

Cecil entered the game facing increased scrutiny following the Blue Jays' recent acquisition of J.A. Happ. Manager John Farrell stated numerous times in recent days that his rotation is being monitored on a start-by-start basis and if anyone falters, Happ will be ready to step in and fill the void.

That left Cecil needing to come through with a strong outing in order to earn another start, and he appeared to do just that against Oakland. Cecil allowed just the two runs on five hits while striking out a season-high eight batters in six strong innings.

The 26-year-old's only glaring mistake of the night occurred in the second inning when he elevated a first-pitch sinker to Derek Norris. Oakland's catcher drove the pitch into the second deck in left field to give the A's an early 2-0 lead they would not relinquish.

Home runs have been Cecil's Achilles' heel for each of the past two seasons. He has now surrendered eight homers in seven starts this year and 15 of his past 18 outings overall. Prior to 2011, Cecil surrendered a long ball every 31.5 at-bats, but since then he has averaged one per every 20.9.

"When he mislocates, yeah, that has been a relatively high number," Farrell said. "The last two outings in New York and then here tonight, he's not trying to throw his fastball as hard, which has allowed him to leverage the ball downhill and pitch in the bottom of the strike zone a little bit more frequently.

"But Norris jumped on the first pitch in that at-bat for the two-run homer. As long as he doesn't walk people in front of the home runs you can live with the solo home runs."

Cecil settled down after that and shut down the A's offense the rest of the way. He threw 57 of his 94 pitches for strikes en route to his second consecutive quality start and fourth of the season.

The game was still well within reach when Cecil departed, but things quickly unraveled. Right-handed reliever Chad Beck allowed a double and triple in the seventh, while Happ followed and promptly surrendered an RBI double to switch-hitter Coco Crisp.

That was followed by a pair of walks and eventually a three-run single by Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. That extended the A's lead to 7-1 and put the game well out of reach.

"That's something I need to be able to do and tonight's definitely frustrating," said Happ, who made all of his appearances with Houston as a starter. "I took us right out of that game, we were battling, and I took us right out of it. It's not a good feeling."

Prior to joining the Blue Jays, Happ hadn't made a relief appearance since 2009 when he was a member of the Phillies. His season debut as a reliever came on Saturday in Boston, where he retired both batters he faced but things didn't go nearly as smoothly during his first appearance north of the border.

The Blue Jays seemed to originally indicate that they wanted to only use Happ out of the bullpen to start an inning and throw multiple frames, but Farrell said there were a couple of factors at play in Tuesday's tight ballgame.

"It may be a tough spot," Farrell said. "He came in during the middle of an inning over in Boston in his first outing even though there was nobody on base in his first relief appearance here. But the fact is that Crisp is a .200 hitter against left-handers, thought that was the move to turn him around to the right side."

Toronto entered the series opener having scored 28 runs in its past three contests, but couldn't generate much offense against A's starter Travis Blackley. The lone bright spot was a third-inning home run by outfielder Travis Snider, who now has two since being recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas on Friday.

Snider's blast to right field was the only run Blackley surrendered all night. The lefty allowed just five hits and one walk, while striking out eight in seven innings, as Oakland improved to 9-1 following the All-Star break. Blackley pitched well, but didn't seem to take too much satisfaction in that after the game.

"Good late, early not so good," Blackley said. "I felt like a fish out of water early, didn't have a rhythm on anything, really. My cutter was disgustingly bad today, didn't work at all. It was backing up, it was driving straight into the ground.

"Luckily the curveball was just phenomenal today. I was able to throw it for strikes and that pretty much changed the game for me today. I didn't hit many spots with any other pitch."

J.P. Arencibia continued his surge at the plate -- going 2-for-4, including a double and a solo homer -- his third in as many games -- in the ninth. The Blue Jays catcher is 15-for-42 (.357) in his last 13 games, with five home runs, four doubles and 12 RBIs.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.