Drew Hutchison, strikeout pitcher?

TORONTO – As he was climbing through the Toronto Blue Jays’ minor-league system, Drew Hutchison was never described as a power pitcher. Team officials raved about his mound presence, intense competitiveness and impeccable command, but rarely mentioned an ability to overpower opponents.

Yet after posting a career high nine strikeouts for the third time during Thursday’s 11-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, maybe it’s time to reconsider what type of pitcher the 23-year-old right-hander might become.

With his latest nine spot, collected over six innings of very good two-run ball that was lost in the latest bullpen implosion, Hutchison has 33 strikeouts in 26 innings this season, a strikeout rate per nine innings of 11.4.

That’s a marked improvement over the 7.5 K/9 rate (49 in 58.2 innings) he posted as a rookie in 2012 before he was injured, but also better than the 9.6 rate he delivered in 270 minor-league innings.

Regularly hitting 94-95 mph, the way he did Thursday, will do that.

“I don’t go out there trying to strike people out,” he said. “I go out there trying to command the ball and attack the strike zone and when you get ahead of guys, you put them away. That’s all that is. It’s executing one pitch at a time, and executing quality pitches you’re going to have strike outs.”

Hutchison’s six inning of work marked just the 10th time in 22 games a Blue Jays starter has gotten that deep in an outing, a rate that’s simply untenable with the meat-grinder portion of the schedule looming. The next 10 days are going to be interesting on that front.

To be fair about things, had Brett Lawrie been playing a step or two to his left, the two-run Chris Davis single against the shift that put the Orioles ahead 4-3 could easily have been an inning-ending double play.

Great hitting by Davis was bad luck for Brett Cecil.

“I thought I made a good pitch to Davis, hit the glove right where (Dioner) Navarro had it, it was two or three inches off the plate and it was terrible swing,” he said. “But he did just what he’s supposed to do with the shift on, and just a soft ground ball.”

There was lots of buzz at the dome about Michael Pineda, and while opinions varied – including those who didn’t get the fuss – there were also some pretty strong feelings.

“Come on, cheat better,” was one of my favourite takes.

Interestingly, one person suggested teams should call out offenders more often since the increase in strikeouts across the majors suggests pitchers have enough of an edge. But the prevailing feeling was one of don’t ask, don’t tell and don’t be so blatant that you leave the other team no choice.

“With Pineda you almost had to,” said manager John Gibbons. “If you don’t ask, everybody’s asking, you’ll catch the heat for that. Who knows? It opens everybody up for something, it opens up your own team, that’s the way you retaliate.”

Why not regulate the use of foreign substances like sunscreen or sticky sprays?

“Unless the ball is really doing something and it’s unhittable, the ball is just dropping off a table, that’s always been kind of acceptable in the game of baseball,” said Gibbons. “But you’re trying to win the game, too. …

“I don’t know. Back in the old days when they used to load everything up, it was different then. I still have a hard time believing pine tar isn’t making the ball do something. Yeah it’s for your grip, but it’s a heavier substance, when the wind hits it it’s got to do something, in my mind. Now if it’s just that stick ‘em spray, it’s different. I’ve got to believe pine tar does something.”

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