Blue Jays close out disappointing season with sweep of Twins

Brandon Morrow struck out 11 batters over eight strong nnings as the Toronto Blue Jays closed out a disappointing 2012 season Wednesday with a 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Rogers Centre.
Toronto pitcher Brandon Morrow struck out 11 batters over eight strong innings as the Blue Jays swept the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday at Rogers Centre. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos didn't hesitate when asked what his team's biggest need is heading into the off-season.

He said that improving the team's starting rotation is a top priority for the 2013 campaign.

"That's definitely going to be an area — a major area — of our concentration in the off-season," Anthopoulos said before the Blue Jays closed out their disappointing regular season with a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Twins.

Brandon Morrow (10-7), one of the few bright lights in the rotation, turned in an excellent performance Wednesday, striking out a season-high 11 while allowing only three hits over eight innings.

"It always feels good to pitch a game like that," Morrow said. "To have it be the last and end it on a high note, get a win, we all go home happy."

Brandon Lyon worked the ninth inning for his first save and infielder Omar Vizquel — playing in his last game before retirement — had a single to pass Mel Ott for 40th on the all-time hits list with 2,877.

The Blue Jays finished fourth in the American League East with a 73-89 record, while the Twins finished last in the A.L. Central at 66-96. Toronto closed the season with a three-game sweep, while Minnesota ended 2012 on a five-game skid.

There was little energy at Rogers Centre for a game between two teams with little to play for. However, the crowd came alive whenever Vizquel stepped up to the plate.

He received a nice ovation in the third inning and waved to the 19,769 fans in attendance to acknowledge their support. Vizquel also made a nifty over-the-shoulder catch in the seventh inning and singled in the bottom half of the frame.

Manager John Farrell pulled him with two outs in the ninth inning so that he could take one final turn in the spotlight. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

"It came out perfect," Vizquel said of his final day in the major leagues. "We won the game, I got a hit, I made a play and we're all going home happy."

Canadian left-hander Scott Diamond (12-9) retired the first eight Toronto batters in order before Anthony Gose sent a shot to the gap in right-centre field for a standup triple in the third inning. Rajai Davis singled to drive Gose in with the game's first run.

The speedy Davis stole second base without a throw and later came home on a single by Adeiny Hechavarria.

Morrow also started strong by striking out five of the first six batters he faced but the Twins cut the lead in half with a run in the fourth.

Adam Lind nearly answered in the bottom half of the inning with a shot to deep left that hit the top of the wall and stayed in the field of play, forcing him to settle for a long single.

Minnesota put two runners in scoring position in the sixth but Morrow got Matt Carson on a strikeout to end the threat. Diamond, a native of Guelph, Ont., allowed five hits and two earned runs over five innings.

Before the game, Anthopoulos held a 30-minute season-ending media availability with reporters. He touched on a variety of topics but one of the main talking points was the struggling pitching staff.

Toronto's starters were hampered by injuries and underwhelming performances this year.

Morrow, Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchinson, Sergio Santos and Luis Perez all missed large chunks of the season. Ace Ricky Romero had a terrible second half and Henderson Alvarez was inconsistent.

In addition, several key position players — Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie of Langley, B.C., and J.P. Arencibia to name a few — also had significant injury problems.

Early-season optimism started to fade in late June as the Blue Jays fell into the division basement, where they would spend most of the rest of the season.

"There's certainly a high level of frustration and I don't think that is unique to any year when you're not in the five teams that advance," Farrell said before the game. "When you don't play after the final day of the regular season, there is always going to be frustration in that.

"Going forward there are additions and upgrades that are clear and we have to do the best job that we can to address those."

There were some positives to the campaign as well.

Youngsters like Hechavarria and Gose showed flashes of their potential, Edwin Encarnacion had a breakout year with 42 homers and 110 RBIs and Casey Janssen was impressive after being given the closer's duties.

But there will be significant pressure on Anthopoulos in the off-season to add some pieces to a team that hasn't been to the playoffs since 1993.