ATLANTA – The Blue Jays hit the interleague road, which has long been a trail of broken dreams for them, and shut out the National League’s best home team with an eight-hit attack that featured not a single extra-base knock.
Here are three things that stood out to me about their 3-0 series-opening win over the Braves:
THE KIDS WERE A WHOLE LOT BETTER THAN ALRIGHT:
It’s a bit of a misnomer for the sake of a headline, since neither Juan Perez nor Neil Wagner are kids, but they did get called up from triple-A Buffalo just Wednesday morning and were both absolutely lights-out when pressed into immediate duty, combining for 4.2 innings of one-hit shutout relief.
Perez, a spindly 34 year-old lefty with just 27.2 big-league innings under his belt in now his 14th season as a professional, was simply phenomenal.
He took over for Esmil Rogers with two on and one out in the bottom of the fourth, protecting a three-run lead, and got a pop-up and a strikeout to get the Blue Jays out of the jam.
Perez came back out to throw a perfect fifth, and followed it with a perfect sixth before leaving for pinch-hitter Anthony Gose.
The Braves were eight up and eight down against the southpaw, who picked up just his second major-league win -- both of which have come against Atlanta.
Wagner followed Perez to the mound, and the 29 year-old pro, who had been having a sensational season as the Bisons’ closer, struck out the first two hitters he faced en route to two shutout innings over which he allowed just a soft line single to Jordan Schafer and faced the minimum six hitters.
Wagner, whose fastball touched 99 m.p.h., had just five big-league innings on his resume as a late-season call-up to the Oakland Athletics in 2011.
The two of them had combined for a 0.99 WHIP and 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings out of the bullpen in Buffalo, and they kept the great pitching going in their Blue Jays debuts, earning the opportunity to stick around a while longer.
ESMIL DOES IT ALL:
Rogers did a terrific job as the Blue Jays’ latest emergency airlift starter, throwing 3.1 shutout frames to extend his scoreless innings streak to 10.2, but he also helped himself out both at the plate and in the field.
With it being a road interleague game, the Blue Jays had no designated hitter -- the pitcher had to hit -- and Rogers got the job done nicely in both his plate appearances, dropping down a gorgeous sacrifice bunt each time.
His first time up, he got a bunt down that was so perfectly placed that Rogers would likely have beaten it out for a hit had it not rolled foul. Given another opportunity, he moved a pair of runners up and Melky Cabrera followed by driving them both in with a single to left to give the Blue Jays more runs than they would need.
Rogers also showed a great combination of athleticism and terrific baseball smarts in the bottom of the second. After giving up a leadoff triple to Freddie Freeman, he issued a walk and picked up a strikeout then got Juan Francisco to chop a ball back to the mound. Rogers leapt to haul it in, and found himself about five feet away from home plate with Freeman having taken off from third.
He thought about flipping the ball to J.P. Arencibia, but saw that he could get to the plate before Freeman so decided to avoid the throw and run right at Freeman, who turned back for third. Rogers chased, faked a throw to third to slow Freeman down, and then simply outran the baserunner, tagging him out before he could make it back to third. Outstanding, heady play.
The Blue Jays made seven roster moves as they traveled from Toronto to Atlanta at the halfway point of this home-and-home series. They added Perez, Wagner and fellow reliever Todd Redmond, optioned reliever Thaddrick Weber to Buffalo, designated pitcher Ramon Ortiz for assignment and placed Brett Lawrie on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained left ankle.
The pitching moves were necessitated by Brandon Morrow’s two-inning outing on Tuesday night, forearm soreness having forced him out of the game early. At this point, it appears as though Morrow will be able to make his next scheduled start, which is Sunday night in San Diego, but the Blue Jays reserve the right to push him back a few days.
There has been a revolving door at the bottom of the Blue Jays’ roster so far this season, especially in the bullpen, and it started early -- with Jeremy Jeffress, Dave Bush and Edgar Gonzalez all holding that last spot in the at some point during the first week of April.
Rogers was the 11th pitcher to make a start for the Blue Jays this season, and with Perez and Wagner both getting into Wednesday night’s affair, the Jays have used 26 pitchers so far this season -- and we haven’t even reached the one-third mark!