Bullpen combines to allow one run over six innings in relief of Norris
By August Fagerstrom
CLEVELAND -- It's just one game.
But given the way the Blue Jays' relievers have pitched this season, even one game in which they came away unscathed is worth recognizing. Especially when they had to work six innings, like they did in Thursday night's 5-1 victory at Cleveland.
Starter Daniel Norris lasted just three innings after racking up 78 pitches and having to escape several jams early on. When manager John Gibbons had to go to his bullpen as early as the fourth inning, it was easy to see a scenario unfolding where disaster struck, as has often been the case this season.
Blue Jays relievers owned a 4.33 ERA coming into the night, the seventh-worst mark in the Majors. But you wouldn't be able to tell by the way they pitched Thursday.
Veteran Jeff Francis came in and gave the Blue Jays 2 1/3 solid innings. He struck out three, and allowed one earned run on three hits without giving up a walk to earn the victory.
"He's a veteran strike-thrower," catcher Russell Martin said. "He's kind of deceptive -- everything comes out of the same angle. He hides the ball well and has got two different breaking balls with a nice changeup. He kind of varies the speeds on his fastball a little bit and just does enough to keep guys off balance. That's what he's been doing well."
Then entered rookie Roberto Osuna, who fired 1 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out two and allowing just one baserunner, on a Michael Brantley double. The outing lowered his season ERA to 1.38. Gibbons credits an increase in changeup usage, inspired by Martin, for the success.
"He's been great all year," Gibbons said of Osuna. "For a young kid, he's very poised and has a lot of confidence. You could really start to see in Spring Training when Russell took over with him and really made him use his changeup a lot. That's really made a big difference in his career to this point. Coming into this year, he was basically fastball/slider. Russ just really made him use it in Spring Training and it's a big pitch for him. So now he's got three pitches he can go to."
Two more scoreless innings came from Aaron Loup and Brett Cecil to finish things out. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the bullpen's performance, though, is the "zero" that shows up in the walks column. Before the game, Gibbons cited that as the biggest issue for the unit.
It's one game, sure. But even one game without a walk is a step in the right direction.
August Fagerstrom is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.