TORONTO -- The Blue Jays pitching staff has been searching for answers all season long, but instead of finding them on Wednesday night, they hit a new low.
Toronto's staff was hit around early and often en route to its worst performance of the year. It got so bad by the ninth inning that utility man Steve Tolleson was brought into the game as a pitcher.
Dustin McGowan got the start but couldn't pitch his way out of the fifth inning, and the Blue Jays went on to surrender a season-high 15 runs in a 15-4 loss to the Indians in front of 14,068 fans at Rogers Centre.
"We were in that game going into the seventh inning ... then of course it exploded on us," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons.
It was easily the worst pitching performance of the season, and the results were so lopsided that the club set a few unfortunate milestones along the way. The 22 hits were the most Toronto has surrendered since June 24, 2004, vs. the Rays. The 15 runs were the most since July 25, 2012, and Tolleson became the seventh position player in club history to throw a pitch in an official game.
Most of the damage came in the final three innings, but before it was all said and done the club used five pitchers to throw 210 pitches. The Indians had 32 baserunners and 10 extra-base hits in their best performance at the plate of the season.
Along the way, Indians designated hitter Lonnie Chisenhall and right fielder David Murphy enjoyed five-hit nights. That was a career high for Chisenhall, while it marked the third time in Murphy's career that he accomplished the feat. Former Blue Jays catcher Yan Gomes also got in on the action with a pair of hits, including his sixth homer of the year.
Bottom line, it was a night that Toronto would like to completely forget about, and one that Cleveland will be talking about for quite some time.
"Early on we swung the bat real well but we stranded some runners, leaving some opportunities out there," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Then we kept swinging at strikes. We went from top to bottom, we either took walks or got hits. Especially the bottom four in our order probably had 15 hits. It was a good night all the way around."
The problems began relatively early on as McGowan has yet to find a way to eat up a lot of innings since he transitioned to a starting role earlier this year. The trend continued vs. Cleveland, and McGowan has now recorded five innings or fewer in all but three of his eight starts this season.
One of the main reasons behind his struggles has been an inability to keep the ball down in the zone. That was the case again Wednesday night as a lot of his fastballs and changeups were located around the belt or higher, and the Indians took advantage with a lot of hard-hit balls.
With the high number of hits, McGowan found himself pitching out of jams for most of the night. He allowed one run in the second and another in the fourth before his outing unraveled in the fifth. Left fielder Michael Brantley led off the inning with a double to right-center field, and Carlos Santana immediately followed with a no-doubt homer -- his fifth of the year.
Gibbons gave McGowan another chance, but after a single by Asdrubal Cabrera he decided to call for the bullpen. McGowan allowed nine hits and two walks while recording just 12 outs and throwing 54 of his 85 pitches for strikes. His numbers at home have suffered the most as the veteran starter now has a 9.19 ERA, 2.23 WHIP and a .392 opponents' batting average in four outings at Rogers Centre.
"Just one of those nights where they were waffling the ball," said McGowan, whose ERA rose to 5.08. "Made some bad pitches, got waffled. Made some good pitches, got waffled. Just have to tip your hat to them."
Right-hander Esmil Rogers came out of the bullpen and gave the Blue Jays two scoreless innings, but rookie Marcus Stroman encountered more trouble in the seventh. Stroman, who is presumably the next in line for a starting job if Toronto makes a change with its rotation, proceeded to allow five runs, four earned, over 1 1/3 innings.
It got worse from there as Neil Wagner came on in relief and needed 46 pitches to record four outs. He allowed six runs on six hits and one walk, and Toronto likely will need to make another roster move prior to Thursday's game in order to get a fresh arm for the bullpen.
"I don't know what we're going to do, to be honest with you," Gibbons said.
The Blue Jays' offense appeared to be overmatched during the early stages of Wednesday's game. Indians starter Corey Kluber carried a perfect game into the fifth inning until Adam Lind hit a one-out double to left field. Brett Lawrie followed two batters later with a double of his own, and he's currently leading the American League with a .452 average (14-for-31) with runners in scoring position.
Toronto added another run in the sixth on an RBI double by Jose Bautista, but that was all the club could generate off Kluber. The right-hander allowed just four hits and one walk while striking out nine to record his fourth victory of the season.
The Blue Jays have now lost four of their past six games, but will have an opportunity to win the series vs. Cleveland with a victory in the finale on Thursday night.