ARLINGTON -- The seventh inning is an obstacle that R.A. Dickey has yet to overcome through seven weeks of the 2014 season.
A trend has emerged this year that sees Dickey cruise through the early stages of each start before hitting a road block in the seventh. Whether it has been a poorly located pitch, or a misplayed ball in the field, the seventh is where Dickey's starts tend to veer off course.
The late-inning issues continued on Sunday afternoon when Dickey surrendered a two-run homer to Mitch Moreland in the bottom of the seventh as the Blue Jays came up short of a series sweep of the Rangers with a 6-2 loss in front of 43,671 fans at Globe Life Park in Arlington.
"That has been his nemesis," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He gets into the seventh inning all year, he was really good today, so he has to get past that ... It was one of those games where they got us late with the homer."
Dickey has pitched into the seventh inning during all but two of his 10 starts this season. On the surface, the numbers aren't exactly pretty and serve as the main reason Dickey has a 4-4 record with a 4.20 ERA despite a string of success in each of his games.
The veteran knuckleballer has recorded just eight outs in those eight seventh-inning appearances. He has allowed 10 hits, seven earned runs, one strikeout, two walks, two hit batters, two homers and five doubles. Those numbers result in a 23.63 ERA and the only other inning that comes close is the fifth, which sits at 9.64 ERA.
There have been a myriad of factors behind the seventh-inning woes and it seems like there's a different cause each start. That has led Dickey to believe there really isn't anything to read into when it comes to the recurring theme of his season.
"I think it is a coincidence," Dickey said. "Particularly today with the way the inning unfolded. I could have easily gotten out of that seventh and gone into the eighth even. The game before that it was a similar situation, so I really think it's just a coincidence. I felt great, my velocities were good, I have 24 more starts and for the majority of those my hope is to get deeper into the game, but today was a day I easily could have done that."
Dickey's correct in the sense that his seventh inning on Sunday afternoon started off innocently enough. The game was tied at 2 when Alex Rios hit a sharp grounder to third base that was bobbled by Juan Francisco, who was charged with an error on the play. Mitch Moreland then stepped into the batter's box and immediately made the Blue Jays pay with a line-drive homer over the wall in right field.
Moreland's home run was just the second ball the Rangers got out of the infield the entire day. The knuckleball was located up in the zone and represented one of the only mistakes Dickey made all afternoon during an otherwise impressive outing.
In any other game, that would likely lead to a Blue Jays win but in this case Dickey took the loss after allowing the four runs (three earned) on three hits and three walks over 6 1/3 innings.
"I just wanted to see him up in the zone," Moreland said. "He can be pretty nasty if he keeps it down. Getting one up in the zone, that's the key. It's not easy, you still have to grind out your at-bat."
Right-hander Nick Martinez made his third career start for the Rangers and held Toronto scoreless through three innings. Francisco provided the first spark for the Blue Jays in the fourth inning with a home run into the second deck in right for his eighth of the year. Edwin Encarnacion added his ninth two innings later, but that was all the offense the Blue Jays could generate.
The loss snapped Toronto's winning streak in Arlington at six games. The Blue Jays will have an off-day on Monday before continuing their six-game road trip when they open a three-game series in Boston on Tuesday. The inability to get a sweep vs. the Rangers was a disappointment but there can be some satisfaction taken in the fact that Toronto has won 10 of its past 15 games.
"Great teams find a way to sweep series, great teams find ways to win series," Dickey said. "We're definitely going in the right direction but there's more there. I think we all know it. Today's a game we probably should have won.
"As we go forward, we're going to be playing some very stiff competition and you can never let up. Championship clubs never let up. So hopefully we can find that closure to the series as we go forward, myself included."