ATLANTA — The Toronto Blue Jays came up with a winning formula to address their pitching woes.
First, start a reliever. Then, bring in two guys just called up from the minors.
The result was a four-hitter against the Atlanta Braves, who looked downright feeble in a 3-0 loss to the last-place Blue Jays on Wednesday night.
Four pitchers combined on Toronto’s second shutout of the season, with Casey Janssen working a 1-2-3 ninth to finish it off.
But the most important work was turned in by the three pitchers who came before the closer.
Esmil Rogers lasted 3 1-3 innings in his first start since 2011. He was followed to the mound by two pitchers called up from Triple-A Buffalo before the game: Juan Perez (1-0), who went 2 2-3 hitless innings with four strikeouts for the win, and Neil Wagner, who got through the seventh and eighth allowing just one hit.
“You tip your hat to those guys,” manager John Gibbons said. “They all stepped up, did a great job. Going in, you really don’t know what you’re going to get out of Rogers, how many innings. And then Perez comes in, shuts them down, then Wagner, against a really good-hitting team.”
Janssen got the final three outs for his 11th save.
“It felt good,” Wagner said. “I was excited to get the opportunity and hoping to justify their confidence in throwing me out there in a pretty close game late.”
Melky Cabrera had three hits, scored Toronto’s first run and drove in the other two with a second-inning single.
Atlanta starter Kris Medlen (1-6) failed to last even as long as Rogers.
Medlen took a liner off the left leg in the second and didn’t return the next inning because of a contusion to his upper calf. He is expected to make his next start, though his leg was heavily wrapped after the game.
“I’ve been hit by a lot of balls in my life. That’s one of the harder ones I’ve felt,” Medlen said. “I knew right away (that he’d have to leave the game), but I at least wanted get through the inning.”
Cabrera led off the game with a single and wound up scoring Toronto’s first run on a fielder’s choice grounder by J.P. Arencibia. With one out in the second, Emilio Bonifacio lined one off the back of Medlen’s leg, reaching on the infield single. The Braves trainer came out, and Medlen walked gingerly around the mound before deciding to stay in the game.
That might’ve been a mistake. Munenori Kawasaki walked, Rogers bunted the runners over and Cabrera singled to left to drive in two more runs. Medlen finished the frame but was done for the night, having allowed four hits, a walk and all three Toronto runs in the shortest start of his career.
Rogers had pitched 22 games in relief for the Blue Jays this season. He gave them as much as they could’ve hoped for as a starter, surrendering three hits and two walks before Gibbons lifted the right-hander in the fourth with two runners aboard.
Perez escaped the jam by retiring Juan Francisco on a popup, then striking out B.J. Upton, who has grown so frustrated during a season-long slump that he slung his bat into the dirt and slammed down his helmet with both hands, bouncing it high in the air.
“I’ve got to try to flush this as fast as possible,” Upton said, his voice barely above a whisper after his average dropped to .146. “I don’t know what to say. I’m at a loss for words.”
Upton had plenty of company in misery. Younger brother Justin fanned three times and the Braves finished with 11 strikeouts on the night, the 24th time in 52 games they’ve reached double figures in that category. Appropriately, Brian McCann whiffed to end the game.
The Blue Jays made a flurry of moves to deal with their injury-plagued pitching. The 34-year-old Perez wound up getting the win, just his second in the big leagues. The first came on July 8, 2011, with Philadelphia.
“They weren’t even through the lineup one time, and all of sudden they’re bringing in another guy,” said Freddie Freeman, who had two of Atlanta’s hits. “It’s tough when you don’t get to see guys a few times.”
After Medlen departed, four Atlanta relievers shut down Toronto the rest of the way. But it didn’t matter on an otherwise grim night for the home team, which made two errors and squandered a sure double play when Andrelton Simmons dropped a line drive, though he was able to throw out the hitter at first.
Notes: Rogers’ most recent start came with the Colorado Rockies in 2011. … The Blue Jays left 10 runners on base. … B.J. Upton is one of three Atlanta regulars hitting below .200, joined by OF Jason Heyward (.152) and 2B Dan Uggla (.186). … The Braves activated RHP Jordan Walden off the disabled list before the game and optioned RHP Cory Rasmus to Triple-A Gwinnett. … Wagner made his first big league appearance since working six games for Oakland in 2011. … The Braves are going with 11 pitchers but manager Fredi Gonzalez said they may have to consider going back to 12 after Medlen’s short outing.