Blue Jays-Tigers Preview

The Associated Press

As much attention as the Toronto Blue Jays received for their offseason acquisitions, a rough patch for their top returning sluggers played a big part in the team's poor start.

Their last game may mark a key step in the right direction.

With No. 3 hitter Jose Bautista back at full strength, cleanup man Edwin Encarnacion looks to build off a slump-busting effort Thursday in Toronto's series finale with the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.

Bautista missed three games with a twisted ankle before returning for Tuesday's series-opening 7-4 loss in Detroit. He failed to reach base while serving as the designated hitter, but he was back in his regular right field spot Wednesday.

While Bautista singled, walked and scored two runs, Encarnacion had two doubles, a walk and an RBI as the Blue Jays rallied from a five-run deficit to win 8-6. Encarnacion had gone 0 for 17 with seven strikeouts and no walks over the previous four games.

"I've been swinging at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone, and that's how I've been making outs by myself, swinging at bad pitches," Encarnacion told the team's official website before Wednesday's game. "So, right now I'm going to try to focus on a pitch in the strike zone."

His performance and that of the Blue Jays (3-5) was a good sign for a team which entered the day having scored an AL-low 25 runs. J.P. Arencibia had the go-ahead, three-run double in the seventh inning for Toronto, which tied a season high with 12 hits and drew five walks.

"It was nice to finally get a few hits and walks and guys grinding out at-bats," said Arencibia, hitting .360 with seven RBIs over the past six games.

If Encarnacion and Bautista get going, the Toronto offense could really take off considering leadoff man Jose Reyes is hitting .406 in a Blue Jays uniform.

Another Toronto newcomer, Josh Johnson (0-0, 4.50 ERA), will face the Tigers for the first time.

The right-hander had a shaky debut, giving up four runs - three earned - in six innings of a 6-4 victory over Boston on Friday. He allowed nine hits, walked two and hit a batter.

"I've got to be more efficient with pitches and get deeper into that game," said Johnson, who pitched past the sixth inning in 15 of 31 starts with Miami last year.

Like Johnson, scheduled Tigers starter Doug Fister (1-0, 5.40) wasn't efficient Friday, but he beat the Yankees by allowing three runs and six hits in five innings of an 8-3 win. The righty walked two, hit two batters and threw a wild pitch.

He won his only start against the Jays last year, allowing a run in eight innings and striking out nine in a 4-1 victory July 29.

Detroit's bullpen, meanwhile, remains in disarray. Still with no true closer and two blown saves in four opportunities, Tigers relievers are 0-2 with a 6.66 ERA. Darin Downs, Brayan Villarreal and Octavio Dotel combined to allow four runs, four hits and five walks in three innings Wednesday.

"We've got to find out what guys can do," manager Jim Leyland told the team's official website. "That's as simple as it is. We'll see how it plays out."

The Tigers (4-4) continue to get production from their sluggers. Prince Fielder is 7 for 17 with nine RBIs over the past five games, Miguel Cabrera is 6 for 10 in this series to raise his average to .394 and they share the team lead with 10 RBIs.

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