Sports Baseball

BLUE JAYS

Stroman returns to form in shutout over Orioles

By Rob Longley, Toronto Sun

TORONTO - 

For his previous two starts, the usually popular Stro Show was playing to mixed reviews.

Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman had given three home runs in each of two consecutive losses, a notable step back for the right-hander, who had recorded victories his six previous decisions.

On Wednesday, Stroman emphatically returned to shut-down mode to lead the Jays to a much-needed 4-0 win over their divisional nemesis Baltimore Orioles.

Stroman was borderline brilliant, going 7.2 shutout innings as no Baltimore base-runner reached scoring position under his watch. It was Stroman’s longest outing since his complete game effort on April 23 as he improved his record to 8-4.

“He was really good,” Jays manager John Gibbons said, in pure understatement. “I thought he got stronger as the game went on against a dangerous team that’s tough to shut down.

“We needed that game, desperately.”

Solo home runs from Jose Bautista and Justin Smoak provided the main run support as the Jays won for just the third time in 11 meetings versus the O’s this season. And, yes, the Jays are well aware that they need to do some damage against AL East opponents to make any headway in the standings. Improving to 13-20 against divisional foes was an important step on Wednesday as their overall record improved to 37-40.

Getting Stroman back to the form that saw him earn MVP honours at this spring’s World Baseball Classic is another important development. And the precocious righty was dealing on Wednesday.

“I feel like I made a couple of key adjustments,” Stroman said of the turnaround. “I’m very big into my own mechanics. I know what I have to do when my game is off.”

Despite a pitch count that had climbed into triple digits after the seventh, Stroman felt he wasn’t done. He was getting stronger as the game went on and, with 12 ground ball outs and eight strikeouts on the night, he didn’t want to go anywhere.

“I looked into the dugout when I got off the mound and (pitching coach Pete Walker) kind of gave me a nod that I was staying in,” said Stroman, who finished the night with a career-high 119 pitches. “So I was happy about that. My body feels great. I feel I could have gone another inning or two innings.”

And for bonus good news from the pitching staff, reliever Roberto Osuna continued to work at putting his anxiety issues behind him. The Jays closer worked a perfect ninth, striking out the side and the heart of the Orioles order.

“I don’t see anything wrong with him,” Gibbons said. “He looks comfortable on the mound. I don’t know how you pitch any better.”

WHOSE AN ALL-STAR?

Stroman interrupted his post-game scrum with a passionate plea for Jays fans to get voting for first baseman Smoak in the hopes of pulling off a late rally to get elected to the American League all-star team.

“We should definitely direct this convo to Justin Smoak,” Stroman said. “The guy’s been unbelievable for us. He needs to be starting.”

Smoak’s homer in the fourth inning was his 21st of the year, representing a career-high, surpassing the 20 he swatted in 2013.

“It’s more important to win the ball game and it helped us out there,” Smoak said. “It’s always nice to hit career highs. I’m just trying to have competitive at-bats and hunt pitches.”

GAME ON

Bautista’s opposite-field blast in the first was the Jays first leadoff homer of the season. It also marked RBI No. 737 for Bautista putting him in solo fourth in club history. When he added another on a fielder’s choice in the fourth, Bautista moved to just two behind George Bell for third on the career Jays list … Nice night for Jays left fielder Steve Pearce, who had base hits in each of his three at bats. Pearce has now reached safely in 12 of his past 13 games and has a .421 batting average over that time … Orioles starter Wade Miley on Stroman’s performance: “He was outstanding. Dude had four pitches working, he was locating them well, he was getting ahead. When he locates it like that, it makes it really tough on opposing hitters.” … It was the Jays’ fifth shutout of the season … Stroman has gone seven-plus innings six times this season while the rest of the Jays starters have combined for just nine such outings … More Stroman: His 119 pitches was the highness pitch count since David Price threw the same number against Minnesota on Aug. 3, 2015.

ROTATING ROTATION?

The Jays were enthused by Aaron Sanchez’s 66-pitch rehab start Tuesday in Bradenton, Fla. Gibbons, who talked to Sanchez after the game, figures the young righty will need just one more start before rejoining the rotation.

“I talked to him last night and there are no issues at all with the finger which is the most important thing,” Gibbons said of the blister that has dogged Sanchez since the start of the season. “He’ll make his next start and if that goes well, we’ll have him back.”

Gibbons said that Sanchez will likely bump his pitch count up to 80 for the next start, building to his return to the big team.

After that, the team will have some decisions to make. The most likely scenario at this point would see Joe Biagini return to the bullpen.