Having attended J.A. Happ's previous start and watched him struggle--very slowly--against the Twins, I did not expect the outing he had against the Orioles today, leading the Blue Jays to beat the Orioles 5 to 2 on a sunny Father's Day game in Camden Yards. Happ pitched into the seventh inning, giving up just one run on seven hits. Most importantly, Happ walked none but struck out six. Out of the 60 starts Happ has had with the Blue Jays, he has walked zero in just two of them: today and in August 12, 2012 against the Yankees.
Compared to that Tuesday start against the Twins, probably the biggest change for Happ was having Erik Kratz behind the plate. Like chardonnay and Brie, Happ seems to like working with Kratz more than any other catcher. Take a look at these numbers from Baseball-Reference (entering today's game):
It is hard to isolate the catcher's factor--especially with Happ's small sample sizes-but it was clear that today Erik Kratz called for a lot of fastballs, and Happ threw a lot of strikes with them. Against the Twins, around 43% of Happ's pitches were fastballs, getting strikes on 58% of the fastballs. Today against the O's, 67% of his pitches were fastballs, and 78% of those fastballs went for strikes.
Overall, Happ threw 96 pitches, 69 of which were strikes, for a well-deserved sixth win of the season. The only real damage Baltimore did to the Jays' starter was an RBI-single by Nelson Cruz in the bottom of the sixth. Happ was a bit shaky that inning, not only allowing a double and the run but a deep fly ball to Steve Pearce to end the inning. I was surprised when John Gibbons allowed him to return for the seventh inning--especially with Monday's offday--but Happ was quickly removed after allowing Delmon Young's leadoff hit, a 30-foot roller down the third baseline.
McGowan continued his roll since his removal from the rotation, logging another solid relief effort despite being tagged for a solo shot by Adam Jones. After a walk later that inning, Casey Janssen, who hasn't pitched for almost a week, was called in for a four-out save, which he did with apparent ease, striking out two more Orioles batters on the way to his 12th save. In the bottom of the ninth, Janssen induced a Jonathan Schoop grounder to third, but Brett Lawrie threw badly to second base. The ball bounced off the dirt well short of second base, but Steve Tolleson had a great play to recover the ball then scrambled back to tag the bag to at least force out the lead runner.
At the plate, Blue Jays bats produced five runs today, spread over four different innings. The blue birds got an early lead in the first when Jose Bautista doubled in Jose Reyes. In the fourth inning, Edwin Encarnacion doubled to start off the inning, advancing to third on a Brett Lawrie sac fly. Dioner Navarro then blooped a single to left in order to score Encarnacion to produce the Jays' second run. Navarro had quite the day today, also adding an RBI-double in the eighth to finish the day with a 3-for-4 with two doubles and a single. The Jays also got runs off of a fifth inning Melky Cabrera sac fly and a fielder's choice on Steve Tolleson's ground out in the eighth.
Edwin Encarnacion also looked like he was ready to break out of his recent slump, getting good contact on the ball, resulting in two doubles and a single for his effort. He would've had another hit if not for a tremendous play on a hard-hit ball by Orioles third baseman Manny Machado to end the fifth inning.
While the Orioles were struck out 10 times by Blue Jays pitching, no Toronto batter struck out this game--marking just the 40th time in franchise history that the entire offence has gone with striking out.
There was little to complain about this game, but I will do so anyway: in the top of the eighth, Edwin Encarnacion followed a Jose Bautista leadoff walk, so there were runners on second and third with none out with the Jays enjoying a 3-1 lead. When Brett Lawrie bounced one to shortstop J.J. Hardy, Bautista inexplicably ran home on contact. Hardy threw a strike to catcher Nick Hundley and Bautista was called out on the tag play. The play was reviewed, but the evidence was deemed inconclusive to overturn the call, despite replays showing that Bautista slid around the catcher and that the tag was not applied before Bautista touched home plate. Even if the run had counted, the Blue Jays would've had a pretty good chance of scoring a run in that inning so to me, that risk was not worth taking.
Jays of the Day! Happ (+.194 WPA), Navarro (+.178), and McGowan (+.139).
Suckage Jay of the day is Brett Lawrie (-.115) for a 0-for-5 day plus that misthrow in the ninth.
The Blue Jays will now board an Amtrak for the three-hour train ride to New York City (cheap Rogers!), where they will enjoy an offday on Monday before beginning a three-game series against the Yankees. The Jays salvaged a series split against the Orioles, so they remain 4.5 games above Baltimore and remain in 11 games above .500 and in first place in the American League East.