R.A. Dickey insists he's seen improvement recently as he continues to re-create his 2012 NL Cy Young Award-winning form.
The numbers, however, insist otherwise as the knuckleballer seeks another strong start and a better outcome Sunday when the Toronto Blue Jays try to sweep this three-game set from the Houston Astros.
Dickey (2-6, 5.53 ERA) is 30-32 in two-plus seasons with Toronto after his 20-6 campaign with the New York Mets that led to his unlikely Cy Young. Though some can argue his knuckleball and pitcher-friendly Citi Field formed a potent combination three years ago, it's possible that improved discipline by opposing hitters has also contributed to the right-hander's uneven tenure with Toronto.
"The last three outings I've been getting a lot of swings and misses," Dickey told MLB's official website after allowing two runs in six innings of a 2-0 loss to Washington on Tuesday. "I feel like I've been working on some stuff in the 'pen with (pitching coach) Pete (Walker) ... got a lot of swings and misses and felt good about my pitch."
Opponents are batting .265 on balls put in play versus Dickey, lower than the .280 mark in 2012. But they're hitting .241 overall as opposed to .226 in 2012, and the .418 slugging percentage this year is noticeably higher than 2012 (.365). Additionally, Dickey's strikeouts per nine innings, walks per nine innings, home runs allowed per nine innings and walk-to-strikeout ratio are all significantly worse than his breakout season in New York.
A lack of run support has also hurt. Despite the Blue Jays (27-30) leading the majors with 296 runs after Saturday's 7-2 win, Dickey is 1-5 with a 4.76 ERA in the eight starts he's gotten three or fewer runs. He went 8-5 with a 2.47 ERA in 17 such outings in 2012.
"There are no moral victories in this game," he said. "You have to win, and that's the end of it."
There haven't been any victories versus the Astros lately - Dickey is 0-3 with a 7.92 ERA in four starts with Toronto. Houston roughed him up for seven runs and 10 hits in five innings of an 8-4 victory May 15.
Jose Reyes, who had three stolen bases and two hits Saturday, will try to keep Toronto's offense clicking without Edwin Encarnacion, who will not play Sunday after receiving a cortisone shot for his ailing shoulder. Reyes is batting .340 in 11 games since returning from a cracked left rib.
Collin McHugh (6-2, 4.33) is trying to win back-to-back starts for the first time since winning his first three this year. He overcame a four-run second Tuesday against Baltimore and pitched seven innings - the last five hitless - as the Astros rallied for an eventual 6-4 win.
"You can either sulk and be mad at yourself that you gave up the lead, or you can hang in there and see our team do some pretty amazing things which they've done," the right-hander said.
McHugh got the best of the Blue Jays on May 17, yielding two runs while striking out nine in seven innings of a 4-2 win. The right-hander is 1-0 with a 2.03 ERA in two starts versus Toronto and will be making his first appearance at Rogers Centre.
Houston (34-26), which has scored 30 runs while dropping six of 10, has gone 2 for 14 with runners in scoring position in losing three straight.
"We're going to come back tomorrow with the same attitude and try to win the game," said Jose Altuve, who went 3 for 4 on Saturday and homered in last month's win over Dickey.