SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — After managing just two runs in two starts against R.A. Dickey and his fluttering knuckleball the past three weeks, the San Francisco Giants are glad they won’t have to face that dancing pitch again anytime soon.
Dickey allowed two hits in 8 1/3 innings and sparked a four-run fifth with an RBI double that led the Toronto Blue Jays to a 4-0 victory over the Giants on Wednesday.
“I hope we don’t have to face another one,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “We have a tough time with it. He just shut us down. He had a good one today. It was really moving. He was throwing strikes with it. I’m glad we don’t play tomorrow, so we can wash this one away. For hitters, the knuckleball can throw their timing off and send them into a slump.”
A loss to Dickey in Toronto on May 14 started a slump of five losses in six games for the Giants. They hope a day off Thursday before beginning a nine-game road trip at first-place Arizona will help make sure this loss doesn’t linger.
“The last time we faced him and then faced a regular pitcher, it seemed like the ball was coming at you at 150 miles per hour,” outfielder Gregor Blanco said. “I think it’s good to have the off day.”
Mark DeRosa had a two-run single for Toronto and Adam Lind collected three hits for his eighth multihit performance in the past 12 games, helping the Blue Jays earn a split of the two-game series.
Barry Zito (4-4) was done in by the one big inning and lost at home for the first time since last August. The defending World Series champion Giants have lost 11 of 18 games.
Dickey (5-7) bounced back from a pair of rough starts in which he allowed six runs each to Baltimore and Atlanta. He limited the Giants to just four baserunners.
“He was just about perfect today,” manager John Gibbons said. “He had it all going on. He was in the strike zone. Everything was really dancing today. ... That’s him at his best right there.”
With the back and neck problems that contributed to his slow start in Toronto now in the past, Dickey returned to the form that helped him dominate the National League last season when he won the Cy Young Award while playing for the New York Mets.
He was able to change speeds with his knuckler and throw it for strikes all game, getting the Giants to swing early in a very efficient outing.
“I was changing speeds a lot today, which was good,” Dickey said. “I was able to throw a 63, 64 miles per hour one for a strike and I was able to throw a 79 miles per hour one for a strike. As I’ve gotten healthier, I felt like I’ve been able to have the latitude to be able to do that. Before it was just trying to muster everything I could to survive an outing. Recently I’ve felt a little bit better.”
Dickey retired his first 11 batters before Pablo Sandoval lined a clean single to right field and didn’t allow another baserunner until Hunter Pence walked to lead off the eighth in his best start since joining the Blue Jays in the offseason.
He was replaced after allowing a single to Gregor Blanco and walking Marco Scutaro with one out in the ninth inning.
“He has a lot of movement on it, which makes him so difficult,” Blanco said. “You don’t know where the ball will go. You have to hit a mistake like I did in the last inning when that ball hung up.”
Casey Janssen got Sandoval to hit into a double play for his 12th save in as many chances.
Zito ran into trouble when he walked struggling No. 8 hitter Henry Blanco with one out in the fifth inning. Dickey then squared around to bunt when he saw Sandoval crashing in from third base and Brandon Belt from first.
Dickey pulled back and decided to swing away, knocking a grounder past the charging Sandoval and into the left-field corner for an RBI double. Dickey scored on a two-out single by Jose Bautista.
Zito’s second walk of the game led to more trouble after Edwin Encarnacion and Bautista pulled off a double steal when Sandoval couldn’t get the tag down in time even though Posey’s throw beat Bautista to third base. That set up DeRosa’s two-run single.
“The fifth inning was the Achilles heel today,” Zito said. “Being unable to minimize the damage, the slash hit was OK, but then I gave up a couple of two-out hits that hurt.”
Zito allowed seven hits and walked three in six innings to lose at home for the first time since Aug. 2, 2012, against the Mets. The Giants had won Zito’s last 14 starts at home, including one in the World Series, and he entered with a 1.40 ERA this season at AT&T Park.
NOTES: Zito became the first Giants starter to pitch at least six innings and not strike out a batter since he did it May 12, 2007, at Colorado. ... The Giants have allowed the first run in nine straight home games, but won five of them. ... San Francisco CF Angel Pagan missed his 10th straight game with a strained left hamstring but Bochy hopes he will be able to play Friday in Arizona.