Sonny Gray stood in the visitors’ clubhouse at Rogers Centre late Friday night going over what had happened a few hours before. He mentioned a walk here, a bad pitch there and several dubious pitches in between.
As he recalled his outing, almost batter for batter because it was so brief, he settled on the obvious conclusion with a shrug.
“Another poor performance,” he said.
Even at Rogers Centre, where Gray was nearly dominant over seven previous starts, he was utterly ineffective. In his shortest outing of the year, Gray allowed five runs, six hits and two walks in only two innings as the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Yankees, 6-2, for Gray’s third consecutive loss.
It created a tie in the loss column of the American League East between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees, who fell two games behind Boston.
Gray, now 5-7 with a 5.85 earned run average, not only surrendered a three-run home run to Justin Smoak in the Jays’ five-run second inning, but he also threw two wild pitches and hit a batter with a pitch.
Manager Aaron Boone said Gray would make his next start against the Orioles in Baltimore on Wednesday and added that it was unlikely the Yankees would remove Gray from the rotation before the All-Star break, which begins July 16.
“Part of it right now is we feel like he’s our best option,” Boone said. “That’s certainly part of it.”
Boone said he still had faith in Gray but wondered if he was trying too hard to make perfect pitches, compounding his recent troubles. Boone added that it was up to everyone on the team, including himself, the pitching coach Larry Rothschild and Gray’s teammates, to help him through this difficult period, if possible.
“Yeah, I’m concerned,” Boone said. “But we also believe in the stuff. As best we can, we’ve got to try and help him right the ship.”
One thing that should help the Yankees is that Masahiro Tanaka is due back from the disabled list on Tuesday. Tanaka injured both of his hamstrings while running the bases last month at Citi Field against the Mets. He pitched in a rehabilitation start on Wednesday for Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and tossed 69 pitches over five innings.
There could be other options in the offing, too. On Saturday, the Yankees will get a close look at Toronto’s J.A. Happ, the left-handed starter who could conceivably join the Yankees rotation in the coming weeks. The Blue Jays, who have fallen out of the pennant race, are expected to trade Happ before the non-waiver deadline at the end of the month, and the Yankees, like several other teams, could have strong interest.
Before Friday’s game, Boone was asked if he would watch Happ more carefully than usual. He said he always watched the opposing pitcher carefully, but he lauded Happ’s talent in general terms.
“He’s been a really good pitcher in this league for a while,” Boone told reporters in the dugout.
Gray was asked if he was concerned that his place in the rotation could be in jeopardy.
“I’m going to go out there and compete as long as they will allow me to,” he said.
Friday’s game was especially alarming because Gray had a 1.88 E.R.A. in his seven other starts here. Boone said he took no special meaning from the fact that Friday’s game was a deviation from Gray’s usual performances in Toronto. Still, the outing was striking.
Gray was fortunate to escape from a bases-loaded, two-out situation in the first inning without giving up any runs, by striking out Russell Martin.
But in the second Toronto cashed in. Randal Grichuk led off with a double and scored on a single by Devon Travis, who then scored on a single by Curtis Granderson. Three batters later, Smoak put his stamp on the proceedings with a blast to right-center field, his 12th home run.
The Yankees had a good chance to get back in the game in the fifth when they loaded the bases with one out. But reliever Joe Biagini struck out Giancarlo Stanton, and then Didi Gregorius lined out to left fielder Teoscar Hernandez to end the Yankees’ best threat.
“I mean, we all want him to come through and always get a big hit,” Boone said of Stanton. “But you’ll beat your head into the wall. Bottom line is, more often than not, you’re not going to come through.”