For a guy who is supposedly running on empty, Aaron Laffey certainly had enough left in the tank to put a dent in the Baltimore Orioles' chances at winning the AL East.
"Everything I had was out there tonight," said the Toronto left-hander, who yielded five hits in 5 2-3 innings of a 4-0 victory over the Orioles on Tuesday night. "It just shows that if you stay aggressive in the zone and throw quality strikes, regardless of what the velocity of the pitch is, you can get big league hitters out by keeping the ball down in the zone and staying on the edges."
Laffey (4-6) set the tone, then watched as five relievers finished off the Blue Jays' 10th shutout of the season. The Orioles didn't get a runner to third base until Mark Reynolds moved from second base in the ninth inning on a defensive indifference call, eventually loading the bases against Casey Janssen.
Baltimore remained 1 1-2 games behind first-place New York in the division. The Yankees lost 5-4 at Minnesota.
Toronto manager John Farrell doesn't relish the role of spoiler, though his club should have a say in who wins the division.
"Well, we would hope so," Farrell said. "Unfortunately, we're not the one that's in the mix."
Farrell had hoped for five innings out of Laffey, whose workload is being closely monitored because he pitched only 57 innings between Triple-A and the majors in 2011. Tuesday's outing pushed his 2012 total between Triple-A and Toronto to 159 1-3 innings.
"Honestly, he's running on fumes," Farrell said of Laffey. "His stuff is not as sharp and crisp, but you can't take anything away from what he did tonight. He's gone out there on really some guile tonight.'
An infield single by Adam Jones in the sixth hastened Laffey's exit on a night where he failed to walk a batter or record a strikeout. All but five of Laffey's outs came on ground balls.
"Some of the wear and tear and workloads are starting to ramp up on him," Farrell explained. "He's pitched 100 more innings this year than a year ago when you combine Triple-A and here. Tonight, we knew going in, we'll have a sharp eye on him and a short leash."
Mind over matter
Laffey acknowledged he's feeling a little fatigued, but credited a newfound mental approach to helping fortify him physically. He said he's pitching less on adrenaline and calming his mind before throwing a pitch.
"I put a lot of work over the last couple of years, just preparing mentally — a different way of preparing mentally," he said. "I think that's helped physically, as well. It's enabled me to come into every game, prepare and get ready, and extend those innings."
On a night where the Blue Jays struggled to score runs despite banging out 13 hits, Laffey came up big and won his first start since Aug. 5. While Farrell is hoping to get another start out of him, Laffey isn't sure.
"We'll see. It's on a day-to-day basis. ... I threw a couple of balls that didn't feel too bad and then I looked up there and (saw) 83 (mph)," Laffey said. "That's not a good feeling to have."
The Orioles had won seven of their previous nine. They had not been shut out since Aug. 3.
Joe Saunders (2-3) pitched 6 1-3 innings, allowing four runs — three earned — and 11 hits. He struck out two and walked none.
In the first inning, the Blue Jays took a 1-0 lead on Yan Gomes' RBI single that scored Brett Lawrie, who led off with a single.
Rajai Davis beat out an infield single with two outs in the fourth and scored on Adeiny Hechavarria's double.
In the seventh, Colby Rasmus and Edwin Encarnacion had consecutive RBI singles to give Toronto a 4-0 lead.
Relievers Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil, Brandon Lyon, Darren Oliver and Casey Janssen combined to allow one hit — Chris Davis' seventh-inning double in 3 1-3 innings.
The Orioles loaded the bases in the ninth on an error and two walks, but Ryan Flaherty flied out to end the game.
Dylan Bundy made his second appearance for Baltimore. The 19-year-old pitched a scoreless ninth, but allowed his first hit.