TORONTO -- The so-called bigger names will receive most of the attention, but it's right-hander Marco Estrada who has quietly become one of the Blue Jays' unsung heroes.
Estrada has gone from an afterthought to someone who has become a stablizing force in Toronto's suddenly strong rotation. Success is the norm instead of the outlier, and it was present again in Tuesday night's 3-1 victory over the Twins.
The 32-year-old Estrada allowed one run and two hits while tossing 6 2/3 innings. It was another in a long list of quality outings that has turned Estrada into a reliable option every fifth day.
"He knows how to pitch," said Blue Jays bench coach DeMarlo Hale, who was the acting manager in place of a suspended John Gibbons. "He's got that changeup he can add or subtract with his fastball. He mixed in his curveball a little bit more tonight, but he's just a pitcher that knows how to pitch. When you've got a mix of those pitches, you can get those types of performances."
Estrada has surrendered two earned runs or fewer in seven of his last eight outings. The extended string of success began at the beginning of June, has carried into early August and will go down as one of the best stretches of his career.
All of this from a pitcher who didn't even factor into the club's starting plans during Spring Training. A leg injury didn't help his case but even before that, he seemed destined for the bullpen. It wasn't until the Blue Jays decided to option top prospect Daniel Norris to the Minors in May that Estrada finally got his shot.
Since that time, Estrada has been everything the Blue Jays could have hoped for and more. In a trade that was once ridiculed, Adam Lind to Milwaukee for Estrada has turned into a deal that worked out for both sides.
"It is satisfying, but I just wanted to be part of the team, I wanted to help out," Estrada said while reflecting back to the spring. "I knew we had a good team from the get-go and I just want to be a part of it. Try to help out as much as possible and any way that I could.
"But I'm very thankful for the opportunity to start. We've got a great team. We had a great team then and obviously we have a tremendous team now, so this is a lot of fun."
Toronto starters have allowed three earned runs or fewer in nine consecutive games. The pitching staff entered play on Tuesday with an American-League best 2.77 ERA since the All-Star break, and the addition of David Price should go a long way in making sure those numbers don't see a major dip over the final two months.
Estrada had the almost unenviable task of trying to follow up Price's dominating eight innings during the series opener with a strong outing of his own, but the righty was up to the task. He allowed two hits or fewer for the third time and he's also won back-to-back starts.
"Any time one of your teammates has a great game, you want to follow it up," Estrada said. "It's going to be tough to follow a guy like Price, but I'm going to try to do my best. All I can try to do is give my team as many innings as possible and if I give the guys a chance to win, I know we're going to score a lot of runs. Sometimes we'll have a game like this where we only score three, but that's still a lot of runs. It's a good time to be part of this team."