TORONTO -- The Blue Jays pitching staff has pitched poorly for most of the year, with only the Astros and the Twins sporting a worse ERA and WHIP than the Toronto starters have.
"It's been a grind," bullpen coach Pat Hentgen said.
With only three men in the rotation from the beginning of the season, two of them nursing neck and back soreness for a period of time, it's easy to understand what the former American League Cy Young Award winner means.
Since J.A. Happ's injury, the Blue Jays have consistently had to rely on one or two spot starters to bridge the gap to their other three semi-healthy starters, which is something that has certainly inflated the staff's numbers. Even Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, and Brandon Morrow, who have avoided the disabled list, have had their issues.
However, Hentgen thinks you can't always look at the box score to determine how a pitcher performed.
"I think that sometimes, everybody over-analyzes the game," said Hentgen, who referred to Dickey's start Saturday vs. the Orioles as the perfect example.
Dickey's numbers were ugly. He allowed six earned runs in 6 2/3 innings with three walks and nine hits. However, all six of those runs came with two outs.
"He's one popup away from pitching seven innings giving up two runs," Hentgen said. "And yet his box score is going to read five runs or six runs, based on a two-out performance. As a pitcher, sometimes you just got to keep grinding. Sometimes it doesn't fall your way."
Unfortunately for pitchers, all it takes is one poorly located pitch to ruin their numbers -- and their night.
The one concern that Hentgen does have comes from the troubles the starters have had in the first inning. The Blue Jays rotation has a combined 5.69 ERA in the first inning, good for 25th in the Majors. Dickey leads the team in that regard with 11 earned runs and a 9.00 ERA. All of last season, the knuckleballer allowed only four first-inning earned runs in his 33 starts, and he fell behind 3-0 after the opening frame on Saturday.
"What happens as a starter ... when you fall behind early, it tends to take a little bit of the wind out of the sail," Hentgen said. "I think the starters need to focus on one pitch at a time and just getting through that first inning, and just build on that."
Toronto has fallen in the hole in two straight games, but as a whole, their bullpen coach isn't too concerned.
"I think they keep us in a lot of games, day in and day out," Hentgen said. "I think by the end of the year, with four months still to play, their numbers will be there."
Bonifacio hits stride with more playing time
TORONTO -- Emilio Bonifacio knows that his year started poorly with his new club, and he's not going to make any excuses for why things began the way they did.
However, since that slow start, things have turned around both at the plate and in the field for the Blue Jays' second baseman.
"I feel pretty good, especially since I've been playing a little more," Bonifacio said. "I've been seeing the pitch a little bit better. I'm able to recognize everything [coming out of the pitcher's hand], so I think that's the key."
Over his last 11 games, Bonifacio has gone 12-for-35 (.343) with two home runs, seven RBIs, and seven runs scored. The speedy outfielder said that by being able to recognize the pitch, he's able to see the ball better and lay off close pitches at the plate, allowing him to hit ahead in the count more often.
Part of the reason for this comes from more playing time. Manager John Gibbons started relying more on Maicer Izturis at second when Brett Lawrie returned from his oblique injury, but he has since stuck with Bonifacio, who's started in 11 of the club's last 12 games.
The extra playing time has made the 28-year-old more comfortable in the field as well. After committing four errors in his first seven games at second base this season, he hasn't made an error since April 10, a stretch of 20 games at second base and 29 in total.
"More playing time," Bonifacio said about getting comfortable playing second base this season after spending the majority of his time in the outfield last year.
The Dominican Republic native played only 15 games at second with the Marlins in 2012, compared to 51 in the outfield.
"Like I said before, I just keep working," Bonifacio said. "I played the whole year last year, so I think that's the key to just finding my timing in the infield."
Evan Peaslee is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.