Sports Baseball

BLUE JAYS

Blue Jays offence silenced by Orioles' Jimenez

By Ryan Wolstat, Toronto Sun

TORONTO — This trip to the Rogers Centre went quite a bit better for Ubaldo Jimenez.

Back in October, the Orioles right-hander surrendered Edwin Encarnacion’s winner-take-all wild card game-deciding three-run blast on his first pitch.

On Thursday night, Jimenez, he of the 2-3 record and ugly 7.26 ERA heading in, shut down the Toronto bats in a 2-0 Orioles victory, surrendering only two hits in eight excellent innings.

Jimenez rarely got behind batters and that helped him exorcise that bad memory from eight months earlier at least to some degree. Jimenez has actually handled the Jays pretty well in the past, aside from his unfortunate moment and other issues with the long ball (the 13 homers surrendered to Toronto batters were his second-most against any opponent). He had shut them out for 6.2 and seven innings in starts since 2015. But when Jimenez has his command (he walked one batter) and isn’t giving up hard-hit balls, he can still resemble the young fireballer who starred for Colorado years ago.

“You go into this game thinking Ubaldo Jimenez is, statistically, the worst pitcher in baseball and he goes out and throws the way he does,” lamented Kevin Pillar, the best Jay on this night.

“If you just look at the way we’ve faced him, it’s one or the other: Either we jump on him early, he doesn’t get out of the second inning, or he throws games like this.”

On the other side, J.A. Happ was bailed out by his defence at times, but was still good enough to deserve a better fate, giving up only a pair of runs and eight hits in his 6.1 innings. Happ, a 20-game winner in 2016, dropped to 2-5. Last year, the Jays averaged 6.88 runs per nine innings when Happ took the mound. This year, it was just 3.83 before Thursday’s shutout.

Toronto’s pitchers are on quite a run. This was the fifth game in a row opponents were held to three or fewer runs, the first time that has happened in several seasons. But without the batters producing, the team has only won twice in that span.

“Happer was really good. Five runs we held (Baltimore) to in three games, we feel pretty good with that,” said manager John Gibbons.

Baltimore opened the rather barren scoring ledger in the top of the third, when Jonathan Schoop plated Ruben Tejada on a sacrifice fly.

Toronto didn’t manage even a single hit until the bottom of that frame, when Ryan Goins laced a ground-rule double to centre field with two outs. Then the bats went quiet again.

Schoop led off the sixth with a shot that he tried to stretch out into a double, but Ezequiel Carrera made a perfect throw to get him at second.

Later, Mark Trumbo blasted a ball to the wall in right. For a moment it looked like it would leave the park, before landing in the glove of Jose Bautista.

Catcher Caleb Joseph, knocked in the second run later in the inning.

Perhaps the lone highlight for the 37,000 and change on hand, came when Pillar made his first spectacular catch in some time, a brilliant running grab in the seventh off the bat of Tejada. Pillar extended his arm to haul in the ball, just as he crashed into the wall in right-centre. The crowd gasped, first for the collision and the noise it made, then again when they realized what they had just seen.

“As long as I’ve been there, I think that’s the first time, running full speed, I’ve made contact with the wall,” Pillar said.

“I think I’ve kind of been able to feel around for it, that plexiglass. It kind of felt like I was checking someone, hockey reference you know, plexiglass.”

At least he was smiling. How’s the shoulder?

“I’m good. I’m standing, I’m living, feeling all right,” he said.

The effort impressed Happ.

“That was incredible. Just no regard for his body at all, that was unbelievable. We almost get used to that, but it’s fun to watch for sure,” he said.

An inning later, Pillar lined a two-out double. Again, the Jays could not capitalize.

Russell Martin added a single in the ninth, but got no farther.

Even though the O’s have had a tough season, they’ve had Toronto’s number. The Jays fell to 3-9 against the Orioles this season and 13-21 against the American League East.

The latest chance to turn things around against a rival comes over the next few days, when Boston hits town for a Canada Day weekend series.

Doug Fister opens against Francisco Liriano.

rwolstat@postmedia.com