Seven-run Second Inning Gives Henderson Alvarez Big Cushion for Fifth Win
The Toronto Blue Jays had another impressive offensive game but it was the performance on the mound that was the biggest surprise and relief for the team.
The Blue Jays hitters exploded for seven runs in the second inning but Henderson Alvarez (5-6) was quick and efficient in pitching seven innings to give up just one run on a surprisingly low 80 pitches. The lead was enough as the Jays (40-38) cruised to an easy 11-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels (43-35) at Rogers Centre on Saturday afternoon.
Just five days ago it was feared that Alvarez was going to be the fourth casualty of the starting rotation when he left his start against Boston in the fifth inning due to elbow soreness. The Jays have already lost starters Brendan Morrow, Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek due to injury causing an overused bullpen to bail out other pitchers filling the void.
But luckily Alvarez did not miss a beat and did something that his counterparts were not able to do in a long time - go late into the game and give the bullpen a deserved rest.
"In light of five days ago, the fact that he could go out and pitch extremely efficient...he did an outstanding job," said Jays Manager John Farrell. "It was really what we needed. It's been a while since our starters went deep into the game to give some of our relievers a down day.
"And the fact that we built a pretty good cushion early in the game may have helped some of the stress of the pitches Henderson delivered today."
Alvarez through a translator said his elbow "wasn't any problem" and that "it felt good." He did not use his fastball or slider very much but relied heavily on his sinker and changeup. In recent starts the pitcher had issues with keeping the ball down but succeeded with ease against the Angels hitters.
"It's always good to go deep into the games and there were a couple of long innings in between which is good for us," said Alvarez. "But I continued to battle, I battled through the whole game. It was good that I was able to go seven."
"I worked really hard with the sinker. I was keeping the sinker down. I used the changeup a lot. I only threw one slider the whole game today."
Even though the pitch count was so low Farrell decided to take Alvarez out after the seventh inning as a precautionary measure, especially with a 10-run lead.
"Under normal circumstances we might have looked at getting another one but with the lead that we built we were certainly going to find an inning of work for someone else and conserve in some ways," said Farrell.
"I think most importantly he was able to get loose with no problems particularly after a couple of long innings...a very encouraging day in a number of ways for Henderson."
Complete Team Effort
With the exception of Rajai Davis and Adam Lind, who hit two homeruns on Friday night, the entire Jays batting lineup contributed in the 10-hit and 11-run effort. The Jays got to Angels right-handed pitcher Garrett Richards (2-1) early and often for his worst start of the year. Meanwhile, Angels standout rookie Mike Trout went 0-for-4 to snap his career-high 11-game hit streak.
Third baseman Brett Lawrie had the biggest impact hitting a single, double and a big three-run homerun in the fifth inning, his eighth of the season, to put the game well out of reach. Yunel Escobar hit his fifth homer of the year, a two-run blast, and ignited the offensive burst in the second inning. Jose Bautista was relatively quiet but did pick up his 500th career RBI with a single in the second.
"I think we put good swings on the ball," said Lawrie. "We allowed ourselves to get into counts where we could do some damage and I think we just did a good job of getting the next guy up. And we allowed ourselves to put runs on the board. I think Alvarez evidently helped us out and he got us back in the dugout and allowed us to get momentum."
The performance of Colby Rasmus stood out not only offensively but defensively as well. He continued his hot streak at the plate by hitting a key double in the second by fighting off pitches to gain a favourable count. Then in the eighth inning he made an incredible sliding catch in centre field to rob Albert Pujols of a sure double and fans responded with an ovation and chants of “Colby.”
"He's playing the game so well right now," said Lawrie of Rasmus. "He's playing hard. And he's playing it smart too. He's not worrying about his at-bats, he's going up there and he's letting it fly.
"I give him props for that because this game can be so frustrating but he's going up there and doing his thing. He's helping the guys out and I think the two-hole is a good spot for him and he's doing a good job there. He's been driving in runs and allowing the guys behind him to do some damage as well."
Rasmus' highlight reel catch came on the heels of another impressive play by catcher J.P. Arencibia who went over the fence at his dugout to catch a fly ball. He had to be caught by his teammates to prevent him landing on his head as he was momentarily hanging upside down. With a 10-run lead both could have easily let the ball bounce but instead they hustled and put their bodies on the line to complete the play.
"Everyone plays hard bottom line," said Arencibia. "I think I got trumped by Colby's catch because that was a ridiculous catch to be able to run as far as he did to be able to catch that ball. That's the demeanour of this team regardless of the score we're going to play hard and make plays."
The Jays will complete its four-game set with the Angels on Sunday in a special 3:07 p.m. Canada Day start with left-handed pitcher Aaron Laffey (0-0, 1.80) taking to the mound against Angels' lefty ace C.J. Wilson (9-4, 2.36). Toronto will continue its homestand with another four-game set at home against the Kansas City Royals beginning on Monday.
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Photos courtesy of John Lucero