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Rowley strong in MLB debut, Blue Jays win 7-2

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Pirates 2 Blue Jays 7

Chris Rowley made his Major League debut - and the first start by a West Point graduate - a memorable one, allowing just a single run on 5 hits over 5.1 innings, with a walk against 3 strikeouts. Not bad for a guy who started the year in New Hampshire's bullpen, nevermind someone who two years hadn't pitched competitively for two years.

Rowley was largely as expected, a very quick worker on the mound, with his fastball at 89-90 MPH. He came out strong in the first inning, requiring just nine pitches to retire the side in order, and punctuating the inning with his first major league strikeout of Josh Harrison on a 1-2 slider:

That set the tone for his outing, as throughout Rowley largely pitched backwards, mixing in his slider and change-up pitches as much and at times more than his fastball to keep the Pirates off balance. It will be interesting to see how this approach works going forward, or he goes to a more standard fastball-centric approach as hitters adjust and become familiar with him.

The Pirates got to him in the 2nd for the only run he gave up, as he hung a 2-2 changeup that Josh Bell lashed into the left-centre alley for a leadoff triple that rolled to the wall. He almost stranded the runner, with a strikeout of David Freese and then a liner right to Smoak playing in; but Jordy Mercer got just enough of a high, 0-2 fastball to ground it up the middle for the two out RBI single.

That was the extent of the damage off Rowley. He worked around one out ground ball singles in the 3rd and 4th innings, and a clean 5th inning with a warning track length fly ball out to right field. It wasn't surprising that he came back out for the 6th, only at the mid-60s in pitch count, but the middle of the order was due up for a third time, and he hadn't exactly saved anything to the first couple times to give them a different look.

He got the first out, but Josh Harrison hit a hard "gliner" in centre on the first pitch, and then Rowley walked Bell on four pitches to brig up the tying run. John Gibbons wisely chose this point to go the bullpen, not allowing the possibility of Rowley' debut going pear-shaped and leaving him in line for the win. It was a nice moment as he departed:

Dominic Leone came into a bit of a tight situation, and was simply electric. He struck out David Freese on three pitches, the latter two whiffs at 96 MPH fastball. That was followed by a little nubber to end the inning on five pitches (three whiffs). He came back out for the 7th, and added another two strikeouts after allowing a one out double. WHat a nice find he's been this year (even if a fair amount of regression is likely in order).

Meanwhile, the bats had staked Rowley to a lead against Trevor Williams, and were about to add some distance. They got on the board in the first after a leadoff walk from Jose Bautista, who went first-to-third on a Justin Smoak single and scored on a slow Steve Pearce bounce out.

They retook the lead for good in the 2nd, cobbling together a HBP, single, and then back-to-back walks by Bautista and Josh Donaldson. The latter was a truly Professional(tm) At-Bat, as he worked back from an 0-2 hole and took some very close pitches. The bases were stranded loaded, but beggars can't be choosers.

They gave Rowley some breathing room in the 4th, as Bautista was hit leading off, Donaldson singled and Pearce walked to load the bases with one out. Gibby pinch hit for Raffy Lopez with Kendrys Morales, not fearing the potential inning ending double play. And it almost happened, as Morales tapped the first pitch slowly to short. So slowly, that that Molasses Morales actually beat the throw, which eluded the first baseman and allowed a second run to score. Two runs rather than two outs, how novel. This was Sportsnet's "Drive of the Day", I suppose in the manner of a tank driving up the first base line.

The Jays were gifted three more runs in the 7th when Smoak and Pearce singled with one out, bring up Mike Ohlman. He hit a slow bouncer up the third base line, and a wild, hurried throw went up the line to score the two runners and put Ohlman on 3rd. He scored the third run of the inning on an ensuing sac fly, but replays showed the ball he hit actually went off him and should have been a foul ball in the first place. Happily, it didn't prove decisive.

From there, things basically went on cruise control. Aaron Loup came in for the 8th, got the first two batters before a single and walk put two on. Ryan Tepera was (likely superfluously) summoned to clean up the mess before it got out of control. Leonel Campos had a essy 9th with a leadoff home run and walk, but again, it scarcely mattered at that point.

Congratulations to Chris Rowley on his first (of hopefully many) MLB wins!

Source: FanGraphs

Jays of the Day: Rowley (+0.142 WPA), Leone (+0.143), Donaldson (+0.109), Bautista (+0.089, reached thrice). Hat tip to Rob Refsnyder for rebounding with a 3/4 and clean play in the field.

Suckage: None. Ryan Goins (-0.065) had the low number going 0-for-4, but I omitted him as a JoTD yesterday.

Tomorrow, J.A. Happ faces off against Chad Kuhl as the Jays attempt to take their second straight series in the rubbermatch. Same time, same place.