TORONTO – Five days ago, Ryan Borucki had the worst start of his big-league career. Facing the Yankees in New York, he allowed six earned runs without escaping the first inning.
Afterwards, he was eager for the chance to pitch again.
"I was definitely chomping at the bit a little," Borucki said. "I wanted to get back out there. But I (also) tried to sweep it under the rug and act like it didn’t happen. Today was a new day."
The way the left-hander recovered Friday should be encouraging for the Blue Jays, especially because their starting rotation looks vulnerable moving forward. Borucki out-pitched Jake Arrieta, allowing the Blue Jays to beat the visiting Phillies 4-2.
Borucki pitched into the seventh inning, surpassing the 100-pitch threshold for the fifth time in 11 starts. He struck out five over 6.1 innings while walking one and allowing just two runs.
As manager John Gibbons put it: "A great outing for the kid."
The outing also showed that the 24-year-old can rebound from a difficult outing–a necessary skill for a starting pitcher who has a chance to contribute in the Blue Jays’ rotation for years.
Borucki had some help from behind the plate, where veteran catcher Russell Martin got the start alongside the rookie.
"I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Russ, too," Gibbons said. "Russ has got that calming effect. He’ll steal you strikes. He’s got that knack to call the right pitch at the right time. I’ve seen him do it with young guys here since he arrived. He makes them throw certain pitches at certain times. It builds confidence."
Along with his usual fastball-change-up mix, Borucki also worked in a new variation of his slider Friday. The pitch was tighter and harder than his typical slider, with less break.
As the Blue Jays look ahead, they have plenty of infielders and outfielders at or near the MLB level. The same depth does not exist in the starting rotation, however, and that’s potentially concerning considering that Toronto’s rotation ranked 24th in baseball with a 4.99 ERA entering play Friday.
Borucki can be a part of a solution there along with Aaron Sanchez, who will start for the first time in more than two months Saturday, and Marcus Stroman, who’s now on the disabled list with a blister issue. Also in the mix are Thomas Pannone, Sam Gaviglio and Sean Reid-Foley, while prospects Hector Perez, T.J. Zeuch and Jordan Romano have also reached the upper minors.
Still, the Blue Jays’ pitching prospects don’t compare to a deep group of position players led, of course, by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (the top prospect in baseball collected three more hits at triple-A Friday: two doubles and a single). A strong finish from Borucki would give the Blue Jays a little more cause for optimism heading into the off-season.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays generated just enough offence on a day Arrieta wasn’t at his sharpest. Billy McKinney hit his second homer of the week and later reached via walk and hit by pitch. That offensive ability intrigues the Blue Jays, who will work McKinney in more regularly even if it means time on the bench for Curtis Granderson.
"He’s got more power than I thought," Gibbons said of McKinney. "He gives you a great at bat, and I think he’s just a good all-around baseball player. A good defender–real good defence–and a good baserunner."
Kendrys Morales homered for the fifth consecutive game, taking Arrieta deep in the second inning. That ties Jose Bautista, who homered in five consecutive games in August of 2014, and brings Morales to within one of franchise leader Jose Cruz Jr., who homered six straight times at the end of the 2001 season.
"He’s been something special," Borucki said. "It’s pretty impressive. The way he goes about it and studies pitches, it’s really cool to just talk to him and pick his brain."
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. collected a single in his first game back from the disabled list, but that was his lone hit in four trips to the plate, so his multi-hit game streak ended at 11. Before the game, the 24-year-old said he’s more focused on his health than his streak.
"I don’t pay too much attention to that," he said. "I’m just trying to do the same thing I was doing before. Even when I was rehabbing I was just trying to do my work. It wasn’t something I was thinking about too much. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, then I’m just going to keep doing what I’m supposed to do."
In the late innings, Ryan Tepera, Tyler Clippard and Ken Giles held the Phillies scoreless and extended the Blue Jays’ win streak to four. Big picture, though, the first 6.1 innings were most telling of all.