Happ's free passes, command issues sink Blue Jays

Ties career high with seven walks as Toronto falls 10 1/2 games back

Happ's free passes, command issues sink Blue Jays

TORONTO -- J.A. Happ is walking a fine line between navigating through a lineup and not trusting his stuff enough on the mound.

The Blue Jays' fifth starter struggled with his control for the second consecutive game, but this time it came back to bite him a lot more than it did his previous time out in New York.

Happ tied a career high with seven walks and lasted just 3 2/3 innings while the Blue Jays' offense continued to struggle in a 3-1 loss to the Red Sox on Thursday night at Rogers Centre.

"I think there's a line between not giving in and making quality pitches, and I was constantly on the wrong side of that line tonight," Happ said. "I made it tough on myself."

Happ's struggles began in the second inning, when he surrendered two hits and a pair of walks en route to a two-run frame. It was a relatively ugly way to start the game and proved to be just a glimpse of what was about to come in the fourth.

That's when the 30-year-old Happ lost all command of the strike zone by walking four batters. The Blue Jays had been hoping for a long outing to help preserve their bullpen, but manager John Gibbons gave up on that after Happ walked the bases loaded with two outs.

Toronto managed to escape the fourth without any damage, but Happ was charged with the two runs on three hits while throwing just 47 of his 95 pitches for strikes. The seven walks matched the career high he set back on July 7, 2011, as a member of the Astros.

Happ said he watched video of his outing but didn't notice anything wrong with his mechanics. The problem appears to be more with how he was approaching the Red Sox hitters.

"I've looked at the mechanical thing and I think it's just a mental thing of finding a way to get it done, make a quality pitch," Happ said. "It's not a lineup you want to give in against, but at the same time, you're not helping anybody by doing what I did tonight.

"It all starts with fastball command, and generally I have that, but tonight I didn't. That sets the table for a tough night, but I'm looking forward to the next one, I anticipate that being a lot better. There's no physical issue or anything."

The Blue Jays' offense got off to the best start possible when Brett Lawrie hit his fourth career leadoff homer in the first against Red Sox right-hander Ryan Dempster.

However, it was all downhill for Toronto from that point on. Dempster loaded the bases in the third, but he got out of the inning without surrendering any runs and pitched with relative ease until coming out of the game after the sixth.

Dempster was charged with just the one run on four hits while walking three and striking out four. The British Columbia native also moved to 6-0 while pitching on Canadian soil, but it was the first time this year he didn't record at least seven strikeouts.

"He doesn't give in," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "He didn't have his best stuff overall tonight, but he uses the whole count when he needs to. He's got the knack to not let the game speed up on him and try to reach back and just go with sheer velocity.

"He uses his secondary pitches, which he was able to induce some ground balls, but veteran presence and experience shines through in those situations."

Toronto's lack of offense continues to be the biggest problem surrounding the struggling franchise. The Blue Jays have now scored three runs or fewer in 17 of their 29 games, and as a result have fallen to 10 1/2 games back in the American League East.

Just as concerning for the Blue Jays is they have won just one series and have yet to win more than two games in a row at any point this year. Lawrie said after the game it's time for the club to make its struggles a thing of the past.

"You know what? If we keep beating ourselves up, it's going to be a long year," Lawrie said. "It's time we start putting stuff behind us. Just come here and play baseball. That's what we all got here doing, and that's important.

"It's time to get out there and have that mentality of, 'Let's go.' We're hesitant on that point right now. We know it's there, we have strengths, but at the same time, we didn't get our jobs done tonight."

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.