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Estrada electric as Jays end mini-skid in Baltimore

By Steve Buffery, Toronto Sun

Marco Estrada  of the Blue Jays pitches against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on May 21, 2017 in Baltimore. (Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Marco Estrada of the Blue Jays pitches against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on May 21, 2017 in Baltimore. (Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

BALTIMORE — Blue Jays manager John Gibbons started praising the job Luke Maile did catching Marco Estrada in Toronto’s 3-1 victory over the Orioles at Camden Yards when he suddenly changed direction.

“Luke’s done a great job for us to begin with, but doesn’t matter who’s out there. To be honest with ya, I could catch Marco at my age, now,” said Gibbons, a former Major League catcher. “Really, it’s a day off for the catcher in a lot of ways.

“Don’t misinterpret that because (Estrada’s) so good. I think he’s a lot of like (Mark) Buehrle. And he doesn’t shake (off the catcher) a lot necessarily because he believes that everything he’s going to throw up there, he usually hits his spots.”

Estrada was at his confounding best against the Orioles, equalling a career-high 12 strike outs in a season-high 7.2 innings. He gave up a fourth-inning home run to Adam Jones for Baltimore’s only run and walked just one.

The last time Estrada struck out 12 was on June 26, 2012 at Cincinnati as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. In getting the win (3-2), Estrada has allowed only three runs in 20.2 innings against the hard-hitting Orioles this season.

In his last start against Atlanta, Estrada left in a 5-5 tie after six innings, giving up five earned runs.

“We worked on a few things this week, staying back (on the mound),” said Estrada. “Didn’t really look at video (between starts), but I told Pete (pitching coach Pete Walker) that I was kind of drifting forward in my last outing and I didn’t feel right. So I worked on staying back and just felt like everything was coming out a lot better.

“I was able to locate much better and throw my change-up better. Luke called a great game, it was easy to throw to him today, he put on some good fingers and the defence played awesome.”

The win snapped a two-game losing streak as the Jays head to Milwaukee for a two-game series starting Tuesday.

“He’s been so good since he arrived here,” said Gibbons of his starter. “He’s always pitched really well against (Baltimore). This is maybe the toughest ballpark to pitch in, especially a day game when it’s warm and the ball flies. And they’re a power-packed team. But you know what, I’ve seen Marco do that so many times. But the team needed it, especially after a couple of tough ones the first two nights and he’s been known to do that, too.

“Marco’s got that knack, he pitches late in the game generally,” Gibbons added. “Plus he’s a fly-ball guy and in our division, that’s probably the worse division you can be in if you’re kind that kind of guy. When he came over from Milwaukee, I think that year we traded for him (2014), he led the league in giving up home runs (29). And he’s completely flipped that in a lot of ways. He can baffle ya.”

Estrada was pulled for Joe Smith with two out in the bottom of the eighth. Smith proceeded to hit Manny Machado in the left arm. With two out and two on and the Jays leading 3-1, Smith got Chris Davis to look at strike three to end the inning.

Jays’ second baseman Devon Travis smacked a three-run home run to left off Baltimore starter Wade Miley to give the Jays a 3-0 lead in the first. Travis has now hit in seven straight games and has 15 extra-base hits in May, leading the majors. He did not have an extra base hit in his first 14 games.

Travis was scuffling early in the season but said “sticking to the process” and being healthy has helped turn things around.

Last year he suffered from knee problems and underwent off-season surgery to remove a small flap of cartilage that was caught in his right knee joint. Travis says he feels great now.

“This is sweet for sure,” he said. “To be able to play every single day and play without pain and show up to the yard every day and I can focus on baseball, not about how my knee’s feeling or if I’m going to make it through the day, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Jones hit his solo home run to lead off the fourth on a full count. The homer snapped a string of 13 consecutive scoreless inning by Estrada against the Orioles.

Estrada was at his best in the sixth. After giving up a leadoff single to Jones, the right-hander struck out the heart of the Baltimore order — Machado, Davis and Mark Trumbo.

Jays’ closer Roberto Osuna came in ninth and gave up a lead off single to Trumbo. The next batter, Welington Castillo, who had hit three homers against the Jays in the three-game series, hit a grounder to Travis, who stepped on second base and threw to first for the double play. The next batter, Trey Mancini, smacked an infield single to short.

With two out, Seth Smith came in to pinch hit for catcher Caleb Joseph and flew out to third to end the game. Osuna picked up his sixth save.

THE LOWDOWN ON SANCHEZ

The Jays would like nothing more than to give Aaron Sanchez’s finger problems the finger. Unfortunately, the problem just won’t go away.

Pitching coach Pete Walker revealed on Sunday that the latest problem with the big right-hander’s right middle finger is not even the old blister or nail issue.

“It was frustrating because it’s kind of a new little blister in a different spot — on the tip of his finger — and it really had nothing to do with the procedure he had, that’s been relieved,” said Walker. “That area was obviously the initial concern but this is a little bit different and it just kind of popped up and he had a little bit in his last start and we battled through it and we’re hoping (Friday’s) game would be better and it was still the same.

“It’s a situation where obviously we don’t want him going out there constantly thinking about his finger and it’s a situation where we really want to get him the next time he’s on a Major League mound that he’s feeling really good about himself.”

Sanchez was put on the 10-day DL for the third time this season after he pitched six innings at Camden Yards on Friday night, giving up six hits and three runs. Walker said the Jays are doing everything possible to get the blister situation under control.

“They’ve been treating it a few different ways and I think they have something else in store. Which is good news I guess,” said Walker. “It’s frustrating for all of us to say the least but it’s something we feel that they can get a handle on and get him back out there as soon as possible. Hopefully it’s not long. Optimistically I’m hoping that he’s back in 10 days. But we’ll have to see how he responds in the next few days.”

Walker also had some good news about Francisco Liriano, who is on the 10-day DL with a left shoulder injury.

“He’s actually feeling great, which is extremely encouraging. Feels good, arm feels like it’s getting back to normal,” said Walker. “He’s going to throw a simulated game on Tuesday in Milwaukee and go from there. He’ll probably throw three innings, 50 pitches, on Tuesday and then hopefully he feels great and we’ll go from there.”

Walker added that Liriano will like do a rehab start somewhere.

“But first thing’s first we’ll get him to Tuesday and plan on everything going well and if it does, we’ll make the next step,” he said.

SBuffery@postmedia.com

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