With innings piling up, Estrada staying strong

Blue Jays righty throws eight scoreless innings in win vs. Braves

With innings piling up, Estrada staying strong

ATLANTA -- Marco Estrada has never thrown this many innings during his professional career, but even though the workload is unprecedented, he isn't really showing any signs of slowing down.

The Blue Jays right-hander had yet another strong outing on Thursday night with eight scoreless innings that led Toronto to a 5-0 victory, increasing the club's American League East lead to 3 1/2 games. It seems like Estrada had been doubted at every turn this season, but time and time again he has proven the critics wrong.

Estrada was borderline flawless against the Braves as he limited Atlanta to three hits and a pair of walks. He retired 10 consecutive batters during a stretch from the fifth until the eighth, and if fatigue is an issue, Estrada certainly wasn't showing it.

"Someone had told me, but I don't really look at any of that stuff," Estrada said of his career-high 160 1/3 innings. "I want to go out and give the guys a chance to win. I'll worry about that at the end of the season, but right now I don't want to pay attention to it.

"I felt really good today actually. A few outings back I didn't feel all that great, my mechanics were off, rushing stuff. I talked to [pitching coach] Pete [Walker] and we got that stuff squared away and it all came together today."

Estrada didn't even have a spot in the rotation at the start of the year, but as Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said earlier this week, his performance in 2015 quite possibly "saved our season." That might sound a little overly dramatic, but it also could be true because Estrada helped solidify what was once a shaky staff.

Since June 19, Estrada has allowed more than three earned runs in a start just twice, and over that span he has a 9-5 record with a 2.53 ERA in 17 outings. Heading into play on Thursday, the 10 home runs over his previous six outings were a concern, but he didn't allow any against the Braves -- although the spacious confines of Turner Field at least partially helped -- while striking out four and throwing 71 of his 99 pitches for strikes.

If right-hander Marcus Stroman is able to prove himself over the next two weeks, the Blue Jays are expected to have a postseason rotation of David Price, R.A. Dickey and Stroman in some order for their top three. Veteran lefty Mark Buehrle had been the presumed fourth starter, but Estrada clearly has made his case, and no matter which way the Blue Jays end up going, it will be a controversial decision. Estrada has been that good.

"I just want to help these guys out any way possible," Estrada said. "This team is really good, I thought we were very good when the season started and obviously we got a little bit better.

"We have a great team, a team that can go pretty far, but we have to take it one game at a time and hopefully we get in. With this team our chances are pretty good, but we have to worry about the next game and not worry about anything else."

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