Blue Jays stumble upon found money in Hendriks

Josh Donaldson completed the Blue Jays’ rally, hitting a walk-off solo shot in the 10th to get Toronto a 6-5 win over the Atlanta Braves.

TORONTO, Ont. – A dozen games into the 2015 season, the most reliable arms in the Blue Jays’ bullpen belong to Miguel Castro, Roberto Osuna and Liam Hendriks.

That’s not a sentence I, or anyone else, ever thought would be written. Ever.

Castro and Osuna’s meteoric rises have been well-documented – the pair of 20 year-olds, the two youngest pitchers in Blue Jays franchise history, simply blew everybody away in spring training and have carried their success into the regular season. But Hendriks’ newfound effectiveness has been a real surprise.

The 26 year-old righty from Australia was an afterthought in Dunedin, another out-of-options pitcher thought to be with the club to be snuck through waivers in late March to have some extra starting pitching depth down in Buffalo. But Hendriks showed increased velocity and better command in his short spring stints, forcing the Blue Jays into the tough decision to keep him and start the season with eight men in the bullpen. When they went down to seven, it was Todd Redmond, not Hendriks, who got the ticket out because the Aussie continued to pitch well once things started up for real.

On Saturday, Hendriks was called upon in a huge spot – with runners on first and second and nobody out in the eighth inning, the Blue Jays down by a run – and slithered out of the jam by giving up a fly ball to centre and then striking out A.J. Pierzynski and Jonny Gomes. With the Blue Jays’ rally in the bottom of the frame, Hendriks was the pitcher of record to win until Kelly Johnson’s ninth-inning home run off Miguel Castro.

Working as a reliever, Hendriks’ average fastball this season is almost two miles an hour faster than it was last year, and the bump in speed has helped him to a brilliant start to the season. In six appearances, Hendriks has delivered 5.2 shutout innings, allowing only two hits and one walk, while striking out nine.

The Blue Jays may not have made any big-time relief acquisitions over the winter, but it seems they have stumbled into some found money in the bullpen.

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GUTTING IT OUT: Give R.A. Dickey some credit in becoming the first Blue Jays’ starter to complete seven innings this season. Dickey was roughed up early, giving up a pair of homers, walking three and allowing four runs over the first 15 hitters he faced. He’d thrown 59 pitches over the first three innings but managed to settle down, stick around for a while and save the bullpen. After A.J. Pierzynski took his first pitch of the fourth inning out of the yard, Dickey retired 12 of the next 14 batters he faced, allowing just a walk and a single before handing it over to Colt Hynes to start the eighth.

BLOWN SAVES: Both teams were equal-opportunity offenders in the blown save department, notching one each with the visitors going first. After the Blue Jays finally got to Alex Wood for three runs in the eventh to close within a run, the Braves called on former Orioles’ closer Jim Johnson to work the bottom of the eighth. Johnson, who had allowed two runs on three hits in the eighth inning on Friday night, gave up a two-spot again – this time on a Josh Donaldson infield single that was followed by a prodigious two-run home run by Jose Bautista to give the Jays their first lead of the day. It was the first blown save the Blue Jays have forced this season.

To even that score, though, Castro blew the save right back in the top of the ninth – former Blue Jay Kelly Johnson took him deep to lead off the inning. Castro notched a bunch of firsts on that one swing. Not only was it the first blown save of his career, it was also the first home run he’d allowed and the first earned run he’d given up in the big leagues.

WALKING IT OFF: The crowd of 34,743 entered the seventh inning stretch with the home side down 4-0 and the fifth loss in six games in the season’s opening homestand right around the corner, feeling down. But everybody left with a big smile after Donaldson belted a 1-0 change-up from rookie Sugar Ray Marimon (honest, that’s his name) deep to left field to lead off the bottom of the 10th. Not only was it the first walk-off win for the Blue Jays this season, it was the first time they’d managed to win a one-run game; they’re now 1-4 in such affairs. Despite the disappointing week, the win gives the Jays a chance to win a series for the third time in four attempts this season.

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