TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays‘ starting rotation sees itself more like a relay team than a group of individual pitchers.
Aaron Sanchez pitched five-plus innings, striking out six and giving up just three hits as Toronto shut out the Detroit Tigers 3-0 on Saturday. Sanchez’s solid performance follows quality starts by Marcus Stroman and Matt Shoemaker.
Toronto’s rotation has pitched 19 shutout innings to begin the season, blowing away the franchise record of eight innings — all by Hall of Famer Jack Morris — in 1992 when the Blue Jays went on to win the World Series.
"I was just trying to match what the other two guys did the two days before me," said Sanchez. "It’s just about staying together as a unit and pushing each other to pass the baton, really. I think that’s what you’re seeing."
Trent Thornton will make his Major League Baseball debut on Sunday as Toronto looks to win its season-opening series against the Detroit after dropping the opener of the four-game set. Manager Charlie Montoyo has encouraged the entire rotation to be in the bullpen during each other’s warmup sessions to help with their camaraderie.
"Hopefully Thornton goes out there (Sunday) and gives us a good showing," said Sanchez. "Just keep on passing the torch."
Justin Smoak had a two-run homer in the fourth for the Blue Jays (2-1), while Billy McKinney had an RBI single earlier in the inning.
Tim Mayza, Daniel Hudson, Joe Biagini and Ken Giles kept Detroit off the scoreboard to preserve Sanchez’s win. Giles earned his first save of the season in a four-batter ninth inning.
It was Sanchez’s first start since Sept. 18 after his 2018 season was marred by ongoing blister issues on his throwing hand. He was also frustrated by injuries in 2017.
"Awesome, awesome. What he’s gone through the last few years and to know how good he can be, it’s great to have him healthy," said Smoak of Sanchez. "If (the rotation) is throwing up zeroes, you’ve got a chance to win. It’s great.
"I told (pitching coach Pete Walker) he’s probably sleeping good right now. Keep throwing up zeros as many times as you can."
Miguel Cabrera led the Tigers (1-2) with a pair of singles before getting hit by a pitch in the sixth inning. He was diagnosed with a contusion on his right hand but X-rays came back negative.
"We’ll see how he is (Sunday)," said Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire.
When asked for comment, Cabrera flashed a thumbs-up sign with his injured hand.
Tigers starter Spencer Turnbull (0-1) allowed three runs on four hits over five innings of work, with five strikeouts. Daniel Norris and Victor Alcantra combined for three innings of scoreless relief for Detroit.
McKinney opened the scoring in the fourth inning with a hit to right field. Although he was gunned down by Detroit right-fielder Nicholas Castellanos trying to stretch the hit into a double, it was more than enough time for Toronto third baseman Brandon Drury to score for a 1-0 lead.
Smoak added to that lead two batters later, sending a 2-2 pitch from Turnbull into the Blue Jays bullpen. The homer brought home Teoscar Hernandez, who had walked in the previous at-bat.
It was Toronto’s first home run of the season and Smoak said it was nice to get it out of the way.
"Honestly, Turnbull was pretty good for them," said Smoak. "Good sinker, hard cutter, with two strikes there I was really battling, got a curveball and stayed on it."
Giles took over from Biagini in the ninth inning, striking out Christin Stewart. He then gave up a sharply hit single to Grayson Greiner before inducing a popfly to centre field by Dustin Peterson.
A strikeout-put out of Gordon Beckham ended the game and gave Giles his first save of the season.
Notes: Heavy rainfall leaked through the dome at Rogers Centre, forcing at least one section of fans in the 500s to be relocated. … Announced attendance was 25,429.