Laffey, bullpen dent O's East hopes with shutout

Laffey, bullpen dent O's East hopes with shutout

Laffey, bullpen dent O's East hopes with shutout
BALTIMORE -- Aaron Laffey might not have much left in the tank, but he still dug deep enough to deal the Orioles another serious blow to their chances of a division crown on Tuesday night.

Toronto's left-hander is borderline exhausted as the season enters its final stretch. He has thrown 100 more innings this year compared to 2011, and it's becoming clear he doesn't have a lot left.

Laffey managed to overcome the fatigue for at least one more start, though, as he tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings despite a noticeable drop in velocity en route to the Blue Jays' 4-0 win over Baltimore at Camden Yards.

"Honestly, he's running on fumes," manager John Farrell said. "His stuff is not as sharp and crisp, but can't take anything away from what he did tonight. He has gone out there really on some guile tonight."

Laffey has never been considered a hard thrower. Even on his best days, the Maryland native typically only throws 87-88 mph and relies on keeping the ball down to be effective.

But that velocity was reduced even further against Baltimore. Laffey threw most of his pitches in the 82-83 mph range with the exception of one sinker in the third inning, which hit 87 on the radar gun. The lack of speed could have led to some trouble, but Laffey still found a way to keep the Orioles off balance.

Laffey allowed five hits and didn't walk a batter while recording 12 of his first 13 outs on the ground. He credited that accomplishment to commanding both sides of the plate and keeping the ball out of harm's way at the bottom of the strike zone.

"Everything I had was out there tonight, but it just shows that if you stay aggressive in the zone and throw quality strikes, regardless of what the velocity of the pitch is, you can get big league hitters out," said Laffey, who was one out away from recording his seventh quality start. "I didn't walk anybody tonight and I think that was the biggest difference-maker."

Baltimore's only real scoring opportunity against Laffey came in the first, when the club put a pair of runners on with two out. Laffey quickly got out of the jam, though, by getting Mark Reynolds to ground out to third base and end the frame.

That was the only inning Laffey would allow a runner to reach scoring position. He faced just one batter over the minimum from that point on until he was removed after an infield single in the sixth en route to his first victory since Aug. 5 at Oakland.

The hook from Farrell came after just 64 pitches. It was the third time in Laffey's past four outings that he has been removed from the game having thrown 64 pitches or fewer and allowed three or fewer runs. The main reason for the early departures is the fatigue that has begun to set in.

Farrell said after the game that Laffey was on track to make one more start, but the pitcher wasn't quite as certain.

"We'll see," Laffey said. "It's on a day-to-day basis I think right now. Going out there today, I threw a couple of balls that didn't feel too bad coming out and I looked up, they were 83 mph. That's not a good feeling to have.

"I had that a couple of years ago where I went through a four-to-five start period where I was battling, running on fumes, doing everything possible I could in between innings just to get through the next inning. I think it's one of those things you're just going to have to evaluate it on a day-to-day basis and see how I feel."

Toronto didn't waste much time getting on the scoreboard against left-hander Joe Saunders. Utility man Yan Gomes came through with an RBI single in the first, while rookie infielder Adeiny Hechavarria followed in the fourth with an RBI double to put the club in front by two.

The Blue Jays then gave themselves some breathing room in the seventh. Saunders allowed the first two batters he faced to reach base, while Colby Rasmus and Edwin Encarnacion followed with a pair of singles to give Toronto a comfortable 4-0 lead. Saunders allowed four runs (three earned) on 11 hits while striking out two.

Toronto has won two consecutive games after dropping seven in a row. The back-to-back losses couldn't have come at a worse time for the Orioles, who remained stuck 1 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the American League East. New York lost to Minnesota, 5-4, on Tuesday night.

The Blue Jays will have a chance to play spoiler again on Wednesday night, going for a series victory in the the conclusion of a four-game set.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for 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.