TORONTO — Sometimes it’s just not your night. Marco Estrada found that out Wednesday when he took the mound with good stuff, throwing plenty of strikes and earning his usual amount of swing-and-miss. He threw good changeups and fastballs; he got plenty of weak contact; he threw a first-pitch strike to 17 of the 27 batters he faced.
"I went back and looked at some of the hits I gave up, and I made good pitches" Estrada said. "It’s just one of those days, I guess. I felt pretty good out there."
Maybe an unfortunate game like this was bound to happen for Estrada, whose .215 batting average on balls in play is the lowest in baseball this season. Maybe the Angels really did their homework in anticipation of the generally dependable Blue Jays starter, who has given up three earned runs or less in 41 of his last 50 starts. Or maybe it was just one of those nights.
Estrada had a great changeup from the get-go Wednesday and leaned on it early in the game. But unfortunately for him, Mike Trout continues to be the best baseball player on earth. So, when Estrada threw Trout a nasty full count changeup that faded below the strike zone in the first inning, the Angels centre fielder simply went down and golfed it 411-feet off his shoelaces and into the left field seats for a solo shot. Albert Pujols followed with a homer of his own, this time on a not-so-good pitch that hung up in the zone, to give Los Angeles an early 2-0 lead.
"Those are two of the best hitters on one team, and I made two good pitches to them," Estrada said. "But they hit them out."
And there was more trouble in the second, as Estrada put two runners on with one out before watching Kole Calhoun ground a well-located curveball just past Edwin Encarnacion’s glove at first base for a double that drove in a run. Next, the Blue Jays did the sensible thing and intentionally walked Trout with runners on second and third, but Pujols hit a sacrifice fly behind him to score another. Then, C.J. Cron hit a two-strike, two-out elevated fastball into right field to plate Calhoun as the Angels pulled ahead 5-0.
Estrada needed just six pitches to get through his third inning but dealt with more difficulty in the fourth as he issued a one-out walk to Calhoun and a single to Trout to put two runners on for Pujols. Estrada got the 36-year-old slugger to hit a soft fly ball to left field, but Melvin Upton Jr. seemed to lose it in the lights as the catchable ball fell in front of him and loaded the bases.
Estrada nearly got out of it, as Encarnacion made a great snag on a hard Cron groundball and fired to second trying to turn a double play. But the return throw to Estrada at first was a millisecond too late as Cron beat it out, allowing Calhoun to plate a sixth run.
"There were a few pitches that could have gone my way that didn’t. But other than that, I got hit around with some decent pitches out there," Estrada said. "It’s gonna happen."
Meanwhile, Toronto’s offence was completely shut down by Angels starter Matt Shoemaker, who three-hit the Blue Jays over six scoreless innings. The only time Toronto truly threatened against Shoemaker was in the fourth, when Josh Donaldson led off with a single and Encarnacion walked behind him. Donaldson moved to third on a deep Russell Martin flyout, but Shoemaker calmly retired the next two batters to end the threat.
"He got a lead so he could probably sit back and relax a little bit more. And he kept us off balance. That’s what he is. He’s one of those guys who will come at you, throw anything at any time," Gibbons said of the Angels starter. "He did a nice job, really."
With the game well out of hand by the fifth inning, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons looked to the darkest regions of his bullpen in search of low-leverage relievers. Scott Feldman was selected first, allowing a run on three hits and two walks in 1.1 innings. Aaron Loup came in behind him, getting tagged for another run thanks to back-to-back doubles by Trout and Pujols. By the end of the night, the Angels had 17 hits, including four a piece for Pujols and backup catcher Jett Bandy.
The Blue Jays mustered a run in the eighth, when Donaldson reached on a fielder’s choice, sprinted to third on an Encarnacion single, and came in to score when Martin shot a slider from Angels reliever J.C. Ramirez into left-centre field. Ezequiel Carrera plated another in the ninth, singling in Justin Smoak who led off the inning with a single. But that was all they would get on an evening when not much went right for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Of course, there are those who will use Estrada’s rough results on Wednesday—coupled with his five-hit, five-run outing in New York last week—to suggest that Toronto’s six-man rotation is having an adverse effect on his performance.
Those people are ridiculous. On no planet is it a bad thing for a pitcher who has battled a back injury throughout the season to receive additional rest. Plus, Estrada has 48 other starts since he joined the Blue Jays rotation a month into 2015 to throw in the face of those people—a nearly two-year sample that shows him to be one of the best pitchers in the American League.
Estrada himself said the additional rest has had zero consequence on his performance, telling reporters after the game: "I felt good out there. Plain and simple—I feel good. I’ve just got to pitch better."
And if Estrada’s own assertions aren’t enough for you, perhaps consider what Gibbons had to say when asked if the extra days off had anything to do with Estrada’s average results in his last two outings.
"Who the hell knows? I don’t know, you don’t know. We’ve got to move on from that," Gibbons said. "It’s getting a little tired. There’s got to be more to the game than that."
There is. Much, much more. Marco Estrada is going to be fine. After nearly two full seasons of fantastic pitching, surely he’s earned the benefit of the doubt.