Estrada finds form after rocky first inning

Right-hander surrenders 3 runs on 2 homers, raises pitch count to 96

Estrada finds form after rocky first inning

BALTIMORE -- Home runs plagued Marco Estrada throughout the 2014 season, and they have become a problem once again during his transition to the Blue Jays' starting rotation.

Estrada surrendered a homer during his first start of the year last Tuesday, and he allowed two more on Monday night. The first-inning shots by Manny Machado and Chris Davis provided all the run support Baltimore would need en route to a 5-2 victory.

That Estrada is having issues keeping the ball in the park shouldn't come as a surprise. Last year, he led the Majors with 29 homers allowed, with all but two of those coming as a starter. The number is especially high considering his last start of the year was on July 7.

"He played in a home run heaven, too, there in Milwaukee," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said in reference to Miller Park. "His style of pitching ... sometimes if he misses, leaves the ball up and they guess right, they're sitting right, his stuff plays to fly balls.

"We have some guys that do that and if they square it up, especially in the ballparks we play at in our division, you're going to see some home runs."

The home runs will always be a concern, but the Blue Jays can live with that if Estrada responds the way he did against Baltimore. Despite the early struggles, he was able to settle into a groove, and he allowed just those three runs over five innings.

Toronto will eventually need to get more innings than that from Estrada, but for now it's acceptable. The veteran swingman began the year in the bullpen and is still in the process of getting stretched out. During his first outing of the year, he threw 79 pitches, and on Monday night he reached 96.

It shouldn't be long before Estrada is at full strength, and that's when the real evaluations will begin. He wasn't exactly perfect against Baltimore, but there were plenty of positives to take away from the outing after the first inning, including a number of effective curveballs that will be key to his transition.

"It was a lot hotter today, a little warmer, and obviously that first inning drained me a little bit," Estrada said of that 34-pitch first. "I got back in, came inside, cooled down and felt pretty good. I still need to improve in that area, but that's what these starts are for, and hopefully the next one I'll feel much better and go deeper into the game."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.