DUNEDIN, Fla. (AP) — As the Toronto Blue Jays got busy in 2014, pitcher Brandon Morrow offered a blunt assessment of what went wrong in a most disappointing 2013.
He began with the rotation.
"We pitched like garbage," Morrow said Monday at Toronto's first spring training workout.
"Starting pitchers were awful the first month, myself included. I mean, none of us were pitching like we wanted to, whether it was just bad luck that all five of us were going through that same time, or just putting pressure on ourselves," he said.
Morrow's season ended in May because of a forearm injury. The right-hander finished 2-3 with a 5.63 ERA.
R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, both expected to be aces, barely wound up over .500. Josh Johnson went 2-8, got injured and now plays for San Diego.
"Guys started getting hurt and knowing other guys were already barking and hurt, and trying to keep it up and stay on the field. I think that was a big part of it. Just the slow start and our pitching just didn't give us a chance in those first couple months."
Boosted by a winter makeover, the Blue Jays were picked by many last year to be a World Series contender. But even with the addition of Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Dickey, Buehrle and more, Toronto stumbled to a 74-88 record and finished last in the AL East for the first time since 2004.
Manager John Gibbons said the club's issues started from the beginning.
Reyes broke his ankle in April on an awkward slide, and the star shortstop missed nearly three months. The Blue Jays dropped 10 games below .500 by early May and were doomed for the rest of the season.
"Last year, we didn't play well in really any phase of the game early on," Gibbons said. "We didn't play very good defense, hitting was sporadic and we struggled in the rotation. That leads to how we started the season."
But Gibbons said there is reason to be optimistic this season.
Gibbons expects former All-Star outfielders Jose Bautista and Cabrera and third baseman Brett Lawrie to bounce back after missing significant time with injuries.
Gibbons said he also has full confidence that the team's rotation will drastically improve its 4.81 ERA that ranked second-worst in the majors. He has yet to say who will be the Blue Jays' fifth starter.
If everything falls into place, Gibbons said he believes Toronto can end its 21-year postseason drought, which ranks second longest in the majors behind only the Royals (28).
"We said all last year that we like this ballclub and we still do," he said.
"It was put together for a reason: to win. Last year didn't end the way we want to. Not even close. But we still like it as a group. You go around with Lawrie, Reyes, Eddie (Encarnacion), Bautista, hopefully Cabrera bounces back and hopefully Colby (Rasmus) has another good year. There's some pretty good players out there and we like them."