Blue Jays 9 Orioles 2
TORONTO — Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Kyle Drabek no longer pitches with the mentality of a middle linebacker.
The 24-year-old allowed six hits, one walk and two runs, one earned, over 7 1/3 innings, the longest of his 19 career major-league starts in a 9-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday.
“I had to try and change up to quarterback and think more and make the right decisions,” said Drabek, wearing the cap of the NFL’s old Houston Oilers franchise.
Drabek, who was a receiver when he played football, also worked on his pitching mechanics during spring training.
And that might be the biggest change in him this year.
He has now won two consecutive starts for the first time in his major-league career and lowered his earned-run average to 1.42.
“When he pitched more like a middle linebacker that intensity worked against him,” said Blue Jays manager John Farrell. “He’d start overthrowing and lose command of the strike zone.
“You see frustration from him every now and then but he has the wherewithal to step back, regroup and kind of release some of that tension.”
Drabek used his two-seam fastball, curveball and change-up to keep the Orioles off-balance.
“Last year I changed up my mechanics four or five times,” Drabek said. “When I came to spring training they found the one they wanted me to try that was kind of easy. I’m real happy with where it’s at right now.”
Brett Lawrie of Langley, B.C., had a solo home run and drove in three runs as Toronto (5-4) salvaged one win from its three-game series with Baltimore.
The Blue Jays supported Drabek (2-0) with a seven-run sixth inning keyed by a two-run homer from Edwin Encarnacion against left-hander Brian Matusz (0-2) and former Blue Jay Kevin Gregg.
“Drabek is nasty,” said Orioles centre-fielder Adam Jones who extended his hitting streak to nine games with a sixth-inning homer. “He’s got good stuff. He’s was just pounding the strike zone.”
The third homer of the season by Jones gave the Orioles (5-4) a 2-1 lead in the top of the sixth.
But in the home sixth, Encarnacion hit a 1-2 pitch that Matusz said was a “horrible slider” over the wall in left for his third home run of the season to put Toronto into a 3-2 lead. It followed a leadoff double by Jose Bautista.
A one-out single by Ben Francisco and a two-out walk to Rajai Davis ended Matusz’s outing and Gregg was called in from the bullpen.
Jeff Mathis greeted Gregg with a run-scoring single and he took second on the throw home.
Yunel Escobar, who had three hits, drove in two runs with a double to right and Kelly Johnson doubled to left to bump Toronto’s lead to five runs. Gregg walked Bautista and Encarnacion to load the bases and hit Lawrie with a pitch to complete the scoring in the inning.
“We had the momentum going and they jumped right back on top with a big inning,” Matusz said. “Things like that can’t happen. We’re too good of a team to let that happen.”
Toronto scored in the eighth on a two-out double by Encarnacion and a single by Lawrie.
After playing several tight games Lawrie agreed that is was a relief to play with a big lead.
“You always have to maintain focus but at the same time it was a good breath of fresh air,” Lawrie said. “It was just good to put a few more up and kind of not let them come back.”
Left-hander Evan Crawford pitched the ninth to make his major-league debut with Toronto.
In the second, Drabek’s error set up an unearned Baltimore run. He dropped the throw from first baseman Encarnacion on Wilson Betemit’s grounder.
Chris Davis grounded a double to left. Ronny Paulino’s grounder to shortstop scored Betemit.
But by limiting the damage, Drabek showed he has more composure this year.
“I think it’s gotten better from last year in that it’s a lot easier to forget,” he said. “I wasn’t happy that I dropped a two-mile-an hour ball from Eddie but you’ve just got to let it go and get back out there and keep trying to make your pitches.”
Lawrie tied it with one out in the fourth with his first homer of the season, when he took a 3-2 change-up over the left-field wall.
Drabek helped himself in the fifth after two Baltimore singles. He speared a grounder from Endy Chavez and threw to shortstop Escobar to start an inning-ending double play.
“He’s solid,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s got good late life on his fastball. You can tell why they like him so much. They’ve got a good young pitching staff. They’re going to have a lot of fun this year.”