BOSTON -- The Blue Jays entered Thursday's series finale at Fenway Park on the type of roll that hasn't been seen in Toronto for quite some time.
Toronto began the game in a tie for first place in the American League East with the Yankees. It marked the latest point of a season that the Blue Jays have either led or shared first place since they were a half game up on the Yankees on May 23, 2009.
The Blue Jays got to this point by winning seven of their last nine games and 12 of 17. It's way too early in the season to be watching the scoreboard for results elsewhere in the league, but it's still an encouraging sign for an organization that almost got buried in the standings because of a slow start in April 2013.
"I haven't really noticed it that much," manager John Gibbons said of the standings. "I keep an eye on where we're at, but it's not even June yet. But it comes down to, I think we've been playing good baseball the last few weeks and that's the important thing."
One of the main reasons for the recent performance has been the strong play of the offense. Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista homered in the first inning of Thursday afternoon's game, which marked the 24th time in 29 games the club has gone deep at least once.
There's an awful long way to go, but this is an organization that has grown accustomed to playing catch-up for the past several years.
"Too often at this time of the year, we're looking up a pretty good distance," Gibbons said. "So, we feel pretty good about that. We've had a couple of points this year we could have gone either way and start to disappear a little bit, but the guys have hung in there and hung around, so I feel good about that."
Rogers' struggles taxing on Blue Jays' bullpen
BOSTON -- The Blue Jays have continued to stick by right-hander Esmil Rogers throughout the course of the 2014 season, but their patience has to be on the verge of running out.
Toronto has protected its reliever through the first two months of the year despite his prolonged struggles on the mound. The main reason behind the offering of faith is that Rogers is out of options on his contract and cannot be sent to the Minor Leagues without clearing waivers.
That fact alone has been enough to keep Rogers on the 25-man roster, but it has gotten to the point where his performance has made it difficult to justify the role. Entering Thursday's series finale at Fenway Park, Rogers had posted a 6.97 ERA in 20 2/3 innings with a 1.67 WHIP and had allowed a team-high five home runs.
"In fairness to him, he has pitched kind of sporadically here," manager John Gibbons said. "He hasn't been able to get into a groove. I don't know. We're all trying to figure out [what's wrong]. A lot of times, it comes down to confidence, too. You start to struggle a little bit and you lose that edge. I don't know."
Gibbons has struggled to find a consistent role for Rogers this season. He began the year alongside Todd Redmond as the Blue Jays carried two long relievers in their eight-man bullpen. The original hope was that Rogers also would be able to throw some quality innings in long relief, but that hasn't happened.
With the rest of the bullpen in need of a rest on Wednesday night, Gibbons called upon Rogers to pitch the eighth inning in a game the Blue Jays led 6-1. Rogers responded by getting just one out and allowing three runs on three hits, which forced Gibbons to call upon other relievers instead of giving them a break.
"Yeah," Gibbons said when asked if it has been difficult to find spots where he can use Rogers. "We've been in a lot of nail-biters, a lot of tight ballgames the last few weeks. It seems like it anyways."
There's also some serious debate about whether the Blue Jays need to carry a pair of long relievers. Right-hander Dustin McGowan also has the ability to go multiple innings, but Gibbons admitted "you don't want to waste him" in a game when the score is a little lopsided.
The recently promoted Rob Rasmussen also has the ability to provide some length out of the 'pen, but Gibbons attempted to deflect some of the criticism being thrown at Rogers by suggesting the configuration of his club's relievers isn't all that rare.
"You need guys for certain roles," Gibbons said. "Every team has that. You can probably look at most teams and they probably have a couple of guys they can go to that will give you some length."
Hendriks to make debut; Dickey pushed back
BOSTON -- The Blue Jays announced on Thursday that right-hander Liam Hendriks will be recalled from Triple-A Buffalo to make Friday night's start vs. Oakland.
The move hardly comes as a surprise following more than a week of speculation that Hendriks was on the verge of becoming the club's No. 5 starter. This weekend marks the first time Toronto has required a fifth starter since Dustin McGowan lost the job on May 14.
Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey was originally slated to start Friday night's game, but he will instead move back one day so the club can separate his outings from fellow veteran starter Mark Buehrle.
"We just decided to split up Buehrle and Dickey," manager John Gibbons said following Buehrle's 7-2 victory over the Red Sox on Thursday afternoon. "They're our old reliable guys, kind of our innings eaters."
Hendriks will make his season debut after spending the first seven weeks of the year in Buffalo. The 25-year-old got off to an impressive start with the Bisons as he posted a 1.48 ERA in nine games while striking out 36 and walking three over 48 2/3 innings.
The native of Australia was claimed off waivers from the Twins during Spring Training. He spent parts of three seasons at the big league level in Minnesota with a 3-13 record and a 6.06 ERA in 30 career games. Hendriks hits low 90s velocity on his fastball and will need to hit the corners of the plate in order to have success at the next level.
On Friday, the Blue Jays designated right-hander Esmil Rogers for assignment to clear space for Hendriks on the roster. Rogers posted a 6.97 ERA in 20 2/3 innings this season.
Oakland intends to use a pair of lefty starters this weekend with Scott Kazmir set to throw on Friday night and Drew Pomeranz scheduled to follow on Sunday. That would seem to indicate that Kratz's job is safe and the Blue Jays will instead return to a seven-man bullpen.