Estrada happy with spring debut despite rust

Righty makes first Grapefruit League start after lingering back issue

Estrada happy with spring debut despite rust

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The results weren't necessarily pretty, but they also don't have to be during the first start of the spring. More than anything else, Marco Estrada is just happy to be back on the mound.

Estrada made his spring debut in the Blue Jays' 3-2 win over the Pirates on Sunday afternoon and allowed two runs on two hits, three walks and a strikeout over two-plus innings. On the surface he struggled, and the lack of command was an issue, but that should be expected as he begins to shake off the rust.

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The veteran righty missed the first month of Spring Training with a lower back injury. He still feels some discomfort at times and fully admitted his shoulder needs to build up some endurance, but Estrada also feels there is no question about whether he'll be ready for the start of the regular season.

"Shoulder still needs to improve a little bit, but everything is good, [and] it's still early for me," Estrada said. "I know it's later for everybody else, but it's definitely getting there. I liked the way I felt out there once I got going, and I don't really think it went that bad. Missed a few pitches, but for the most part I think I did OK."

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The plan all along was for Estrada to have a late start to the spring, but it wasn't supposed to be delayed quite this much. The lingering back woes forced changes to the schedule, but Estrada will be able to make two more starts this spring by which time he should be up around 75 pitches.

Another increase after that could put him close to 90. For now, the plan remains unchanged and the Blue Jays believe that when they eventually head north, Estrada will be with them.

"We don't really need to think about that any more," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said of Estrada's back. "Marco's good, originally we were going to back him off anyways. So barring any setbacks he's good to go."

Toronto gave Estrada the option of making another Minor League start instead of facing the Pirates, but the pitcher opted for a true test against his peers. The Pirates promptly gave him a rude welcome as John Jaso walked and Andrew McCutchen then soared a high fly ball over the wall in right field.

A free pass to David Freese and a single by Starling Marte followed and all of a sudden Estrada was in trouble. But he bounced back by retiring the next six batters before a leadoff walk to McCutchen in the third brought his day to a close.

All in all, not a bad first day of work, even if the boxscore suggests otherwise.

"I don't really care about the results right now. I just have to get out there and face some hitters," Estrada said. "It's a different atmosphere for sure. You get the fans involved, and you see hitters you know. Guys that can probably hit you a little bit better. I just wanted to take it all in again, and it felt good, it just took me a few hitters, but once I got going it felt good."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for 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.