TORONTO – As dazzling as the numbers and the performance were during an eight-inning gem in Seattle last time out, the five innings of grinding Ryan Borucki did against the Boston Red Sox on Thursday night is a far more significant marker of progress.
Baseball’s best team features a lineup with no soft spots and as the 24-year-old lefty got a second look at a big-league team for the first time, the Toronto Blue Jays should be heartened that it was his adjustments, rather than those of his opponents that won the day.
By no means did he dominate the American League East leaders, who worked Borucki over for four runs on nine hits and three walks with two strikeouts on 105 pitches over those five frames. But he cleverly navigated traffic against a prolific right-handed hitting offence, made key pitches when needed and might have come out better had a bounce or two gone his way.
“Anytime when you grind and you can help your team win a ballgame, especially against Boston, it’s definitely uplifting a little bit,” Borucki said after earning a second straight win despite the first career cycle by the spectacular Mookie Betts in an 8-5 Blue Jays victory that averted a three-game sweep. “I definitely feel good about this one, especially because I helped us stay in the game. It felt pretty good.”
Justin Smoak’s RBI double ahead of Randal Grichuk’s two-run homer in the fifth put the Blue Jays ahead right after a Red Sox two-spot tied things up, and unlike Tuesday’s series opener, when seven great innings from Marcus Stroman went to waste, this time the bullpen held up.
Hell, even Jaime Garcia delivered a shutdown inning of leverage relief in a clean sixth as the Blue Jays beat the Red Sox for only the fourth time in 16 attempts this season.
Borucki, whose only clunker in eight big-league starts so far came in a three-inning, seven-run, four-earned outing July 13 at Fenway Park, was a key reason for that.
Adjusting “some sequencing stuff against certain hitters” this time out, he worked around baserunners in each of his five innings. And even as he gave up lots of contact – he generated only one swinging strike and had 18 pitches fouled off – it never felt like he was hanging on or that a big blow from the Red Sox was imminent.
“There aren’t many outs in that lineup and they’re hot right now,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. “But he’s got that knack, I think there’s something special about the kid. He just keeps attacking. He was a little bit off his command, more so than normal, but that might have been he was facing certain guys who are really swinging it.”
A litmus test came in the fifth after a J.D. Martinez solo shot and Brock Holt single off a diving Devon Travis’ glove tied things up 4-4. Though Danny Barnes was warmed and ready to go, Gibbons stuck with Borucki, who proceeded to catch Holt breaking for second to end the inning.
The act of faith demonstrated how quickly he’s earned trust.
“I felt like it was a confidence boost,” said Borucki. “Obviously he thought I could get through it, and try to get through the fifth to get a decision is a big thing. Definitely, I felt good about it.”
There’s also the learning element, and that’s really the prime achievable objective until the season ends Sept. 30.
They did the right thing Thursday in optioning Mike Hauschild, boat-raced by the Red Sox on Wednesday, to triple-A Buffalo and recalling lefty Thomas Pannone to serve as bullpen depth and offer a potential option in the event Marcus Stroman’s blister keeps him from pitching Sunday.
The move also sets up on-the-rise prospect Sean Reid-Foley to possibly start Monday in Kansas City, a move overdue after valuable reps were handed to Hauschild, a stop-gap arm signed in a pinch to help cover last week in Seattle.
The experience Borucki, Pannone and Reid-Foley gain now should better prepare them for 2019, and provide the Blue Jays some meaningful looks to assist in their off-season planning.
Development is occurring elsewhere on the roster, too, as Grichuk continues to rescue his season from a train-wreck April; Teoscar Hernandez, who homered for the second straight day, learns to handle the rigours of the 162-game grind; and Travis, now 72 games in, steadily marches toward matching his previous career-high of 102 games in 2016.
“Every day you can learn something about yourself, about the game, about the guys in here, about the other teams,” said Hernandez. “I try to pay attention to those little things so it can help me.”
Borucki got worn out by Betts – who went single, triple, double in three at-bats versus the lefty before taking Ken Giles deep in the ninth – but you can’t beat this on-the-job training, the only good left in this Blue Jays season gone awry.