TORONTO - He's 0-2 with a lofty 8.44 earned-run average and opponents are hitting .326 against him. But R.A. Dickey feels he's very close to the form that made him the 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner.
Will Middlebrooks homered three times and doubled as the Boston Red Sox hit knuckleballer Dickey hard early en route to a lopsided 13-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon.
"I think you try to draw from some of the past experiences and know that a day like today is the anomaly, not the norm," Dickey said. "I've traditionally gotten off to pretty slow starts in the past. I'm not sure why, that's just the way it has been.
"I'm looking forward to the rest of the month. I know I'm close and so if I can just kind of sit in that, that I'm almost there, I think it will be all right."
Fortunately for Dickey, he doesn't have far to look. In April 2012, Dickey surrendered eight earned runs over 4 1/3 innings in a 14-6 loss to Atlanta, his worst performance as a New York Met. The good news for the Jays, though, is Dickey posted a 20-6 record last season.
"Atlanta last year was maybe a tad worse than this one," Dickey said. "You have to understand with 33 starts you have a handful you just have to throw out and hopefully the majority of them end up the way you want to.
"But you've got to learn from it too, you have to have aptitude in this game. There are some things I can get better at that I've identified on video and we'll see what happens."
Middlebrooks' two-run shot helped anchor a five-run first off Dickey as Boston (4-2) earned the rubber game of the series before 41,168 spectators at Rogers Centre, many resorting to a "Go Leafs Go'' chant late in the contest. Middlebrooks added to their angst with solo blasts in the fifth and seventh innings for his first career three-homer contest, giving him four this season.
"I faced R.A. in spring training so I kind of had an idea of what his movement was and his velocity, because he throws a lot harder than a lot of guys," Middlebrooks said. "I know certain counts he likes to go to fastballs when he's not locating his knuckleball well, he tries to get ahead with the fastball and that helped knowing that."
Daniel Nava, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Napoli also homered for Boston, which had just two hits in a 5-0 loss to Toronto on Saturday.
But the Red Sox tagged right-hander Dickey for eight runs — seven earned — on 10 hits (including two homers) over 4 2/3 innings. Dickey fanned five while walking two and often drawing his share of boos from the stands.
"Real fans understand it is indeed a marathon," he said. "We certainly aren't leading the marathon at this point but we have a lot of mileage to go.
"We've got a good ballclub. There's a lot of guys in here who have gotten off to some slow starts, myself included, and it's only going to get better. I think the only thing that gets people in the seats is winning and we just need to start doing more of that and I think people will continue to come."
Dickey allowed five hits and four runs — three earned — four walks and four strikeouts over six innings in his Toronto debut, a 4-1 home loss to Cleveland on Tuesday.
Toronto manager John Gibbons isn't concerned about Dickey despite Sunday's performance.
"It's two games in, he's going to have a great year for us," Gibbons said. "They just hit him hard, I don't know any other way to describe it.
"Lester was too good for us to mount any comebacks. Sometimes you'll have games like that where they score early and the other team climbs back in but Lester was too good for that."
Sunday's thumping capped a less than stellar season-opening six-game homestand for Toronto (2-4), which entered the campaign with high expectations following the off-season acquisitions of Dickey, infielder Jose Reyes, pitcher Mark Buehrle, slugger Melky Cabrera and return of manager Gibbons. But after having an off-day Monday, the Jays head out of town for a six-game road trip, starting Tuesday in Detroit.
Gibbons doesn't believe Toronto is in dire need of a change of scenery.
"I don't sense that we feel pressure, to be honest with you," Gibbons said. "It will be nice to get on the road but I tell you the crowds are tremendous.
"They gave us a boost, it was good playing in front of them. It is disappointing we laid an egg in front of them today but we'll give them a reason for them to come back."
Left-hander Jon Lester (2-0) allowed five hits over seven scoreless innings with six strikeouts and one hit batter to improve to 12-7 in 23 career starts against Toronto. He came into Sunday's game having held the Jays to a .204 batting average all-time and never was threatened in this one.
Right-hander Clayton Mortensen preserved the shutout, allowing two hits while fanning four over the final two innings.
Toronto right-hander Dave Bush surrendered five earned runs on five hits — including four homers — over three innings in relief of Dickey. Left-hander Brett Cecil pitched the final 1 1/3 innings, allowing no hits and one walk while fanning three.
NOTES — After the game, Toronto announced it had claimed right-hander Edgar Gonzalez off waivers from Houston, where the 30-year-old was 3-1 in six starts with a 5.04 ERA last season. To make room on the 40-man roster, the Jays transferred right-hander Dustin McGowan to the 60-day disabled list . . . Toronto slugger Jose Bautista missed a third straight start with a right ankle injury sustained Thursday against Cleveland but took batting practice Sunday and was available to pinch hit. The expectation is Bautista will be back in right field Tuesday in Detroit . . . Catcher J.P. Arencibia was Toronto's designated-hitter as Henry Blanco made his season debut catching Dickey . . . Emilio Bonifacio started in centre field instead of veteran Colby Rasmus with Boston starting Lester . . . Boston slugger David Ortiz will play in an extended spring training game in Fort Myers, Fla., on Monday and could begin a rehab assignment with triple-A Pawtucket as soon as Thursday. He's been plagued by a heel inflammation and missed most of the second half of last season with a right Achilles tendon injury.