TORONTO -- The Blue Jays admit they've had trouble against some of the league's better pitchers.
It's something that happens to most teams -- that's what makes those pitchers good -- but it's also something that the club knows it needs to get better at.
"What happens is, at times, we don't get one or two guys to slow the game down and make that pitcher work," hitting coach Chad Mottola said prior to Wednesday's rubber match vs. Rays right-hander Jeremy Hellickson.
"We seem to let them get in their groove pretty fast. And then they get comfortable out there, and when the best pitchers are comfortable, you're in trouble."
It's been an ongoing trend for the Blue Jays. In the games in which they don't score in the first inning against the likes of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Hisashi Iwakuma, Felix Hernandez, Hiroki Kuroda and CC Sabathia, they are 1-8, scoring seven runs against those pitchers.
In the two games in which they've scored in the opening frame, they're 1-1 with eight runs scored against the starters, and Toronto has 12 runs in those games.
Mottola said to slow down the game against these starters could be something as simple as a good two-strike approach or to attack their fastball early.
"There's all different ways, but obviously we have to make an adjustment where we're not making him adjust at all," said Mottola.
"What I try to say is, 'Let's shrink the strike zone into your strengths,' rather than saying, 'It's a strike, let's hit it.' Because that guy can throw strikes in quadrants of the zone that he knows you can't hit. So just because it's a strike, that doesn't mean we have to swing. That's what we have to get better at doing, is getting our pitch to hit."
That's obviously easier said than done. There's a very fine line between staying aggressive, like the team as a whole is doing, and waiting for your pitch.
J.P. Arencibia's eighth-inning at-bat on Tuesday night is a prime example of that. The Toronto catcher hit a pitcher's pitch on a knee-high fastball, the only one he saw from Rays closer Fernando Rodney, and promptly hit into a double play to end the bases-loaded threat.
Although Arencibia swung at a fastball, something that the Blue Jays would like to do considering how devastating Rodney's changeup is, the location was not ideal.
"It's one of those things where we want to be aggressive to a pitch we want to get," said Mottola, whose club sat 13th in the American League with a .308 on-base percentage prior to Wednesday's game.
The key for the Toronto hitting coach to balance being aggressive while taking pitches comes from being ready at the plate early and recognizing the pitch.
"If we're down early enough to recognize [the pitch], then the at-bats will get better," Mottola said. "That's when you say 'slowing the game down' and things like that. When everything is too fast, you're guessing. I think that's a lot of times where we've given them permission to swing at a fastball. And they guess fastball, instead of recognize fastball. We have to do a better job of recognizing and being ready earlier."
The one example that Mottola refers to is Jose Bautista, who took "years and years" to figure it out.
"That's exactly what Jose got better at from earlier in his career. Five years ago, he finally learned that early was on time," Mottola said.
"It's a constant battle, and some guys never learn it."
Blue Jays give Gose first start of season
TORONTO -- Anthony Gose made his first start of the season for the Blue Jays in Wednesday's series finale against the Rays.
It's only been two days since Gose was called up, but manager John Gibbons decided to get him in there in left field behind starter Mark Buehrle, who has a penchant for giving up his fair share of flyballs.
The 22-year-old Gose is known for his speed and defensive ability, and he took Melky Cabrera's place in left.
"With Melky's legs, he hasn't been running particularly well, he's been victimized by some balls out there," Gibbons said.
On top of making his first start, Gose also took over in the leadoff spot for Cabrera, who's spent the previous eight games atop the batting order. That's something that Gibbons hopes will become a permanent thing for the youngster when he starts.
Toronto could turn to prospect for Friday start
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays still haven't made their decision on who their starting pitcher will be on Friday, but it may be a fresh face.
The club has yet to commit to anything, but both Sean Nolin -- ranked by MLB.com as the Blue Jays' No. 8 prospect -- and Marcus Stroman -- ranked No. 5 -- are on the team's radar.
Nolin, who's scheduled to pitch Thursday for the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats, has made an impression quickly after rebounding from a left groin injury.
In three starts with New Hampshire, the 6-foot-5 lefty has gone 2-0, allowing only two earned runs in 15 1/3 innings, while striking out 16.
Stroman, who's next scheduled start is Friday, has only made one appearance with New Hampshire since serving out his 50-game suspension. In that outing, he struck out six in five scoreless innings.
Whether or not either of them will start at this point is merely speculation, but earlier last week, general manager Alex Anthopoulos admitted that both he and the club were encouraged by the two starters.
"Stroman, Nolin, you got those guys that we're high on," manager John Gibbons said on Wednesday, reiterating Anthopoulos' sentiments. "Those are guys we're going to count on down the road."
Although the two youngsters could be in the lineup soon, the Blue Jays still seem set on using Ramon Ortiz for his next scheduled start on Sunday vs. the Orioles.
"That's what we're looking at right now," Gibbons said.
Evan Peaslee is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.