TORONTO – Not only is Marco Estrada proving that his breakout campaign of 2015 was no fluke, the Toronto Blue Jays right-hander may very well be getting better.
In throwing eight shutout innings Monday against the New York Yankees, he lowered his ERA to 2.43 in 66.2 innings over 10 starts, with a tiny WHIP of 1.02. He’s struck out 58 batters against 42 hits and 26 walks, and has allowed five hits or fewer in seven straight starts.
How is he dominating opponents, despite a fastball that’s averaging only 89.43 mph?
Here’s how catcher Russell Martin explains Estrada’s dominance:
“Everything is coming out of the same angle and it’s anywhere from 89 to 78 and then he’s got the breaking ball. He’s mixing your eye level by going up and down and then he has the velocity difference with the changeup (averaging 78.62 mph), and then he has the curveball and then he has the cutter. If you’re on the fastball, you’re probably going to just miss the cutter. If you’re on the cutter, if he throws a good one, you’re not going to keep it fair. If you’re on the curveball, he’s got to throw a middle-middle curveball for you to hit it or else it’s going to be a tough pitch to hit. And the fastball he locates so well that you can sometimes put the ball on a tee where he’s putting it and it’s going to be hard to hit.
“The big thing about him is his command and the way he disguises the velocity,” Martin continued. “You really cannot pick up the changeup out of his hand. The arm speed is exactly the same as his fastball, and for me as a hitter, that’s the toughest thing, to wait back on a changeup and drive it. So many guys miss fastballs because they’re honouring the changeup. Those 88s that are up, that normally guys would crush, (get swing and miss) because in their mind they don’t want to look like an idiot on a changeup, which they pretty much all have in their career already.”
SAVE FOR STOREN: Despite his struggles, Drew Storen is a perfect 3-for-3 closing games so far this season, including getting the final two outs Monday after Aaron Loup gave up a two-run homer that pulled the Yankees within 4-2.
Storen, pitching for a third straight day, took over and after giving up a laser double to right to Mark Teixeira, induced a weak fly ball from Starlin Castro before striking out Chase Headley.
“Fortunately, I felt good and that’s really the No. 1 thing, having that self-awareness of what you have that day,” said Storen. “You may not have that or this, but I felt good before the game and adrenalin, man. It’s just a matter of not trying to do too much.”
Storen threw three sinkers, a changeup and four sliders against the Yankees, and his increased usage of his slider isn’t wholly related to the drop in velocity he’s been fighting.
“That’s always been my pitch,” he said. “Work the sinker and if they’re going to beat me, I’m going to make them beat me on my best pitch. Mixing it up, threw one that was more horizontal, one that went straight down, everything was about not throwing the same pitch twice.”
He hasn’t allowed an earned run in four of his past five outings, although he did allow a pair of inherited runners to score in Sunday’s 5-3, 11-inning loss to the Boston Red Sox.
“Through and through I’ve been throwing a lot of strikes, that hasn’t been an issue,” said Storen. “I need to command better, throwing strikes doesn’t necessarily mean you have good command or are going to have success. It’s better if you’re locating down and are able to throw balls, too. You aren’t necessarily looking for a strikeout looking, you want some good chase pitches, like the last one, it’s a good slider down. If I can get that slider to bounce on the plate, I’m going to have good success.”