Estrada dazzles again with dominant start

Righty carries no-hitter into eighth for third time in less than year

Estrada dazzles again with dominant start

BOSTON -- Marco Estrada does not have overpowering stuff, and he would not catch the attention of most scouts. But even so, he seems to have almost become Mr. Unhittable over the past two seasons in a Blue Jays uniform.

For the third time in less than a year, Estrada entered the eighth inning of a start without allowing a hit. His latest attempt came Sunday afternoon, when he was five outs away before Chris Young hit a solo home run to left in Toronto's 5-4 victory over the Red Sox.

Estrada loses no-hit bid in 8th

Estrada carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning of back-to-back starts against the Orioles and Rays last season. In some ways, it brings back memories of Dave Stieb, who had four no-hitters broken up in the ninth inning before he eventually became the first and only Blue Jay to throw one on Sept. 2, 1990.

"I just want to go out and put up zeros," Estrada said. "I don't care how many hits I give up, how many I don't give up. Obviously, if it happens, it would be really nice, but it's not something I'm thinking about.

"I want to go out there and put up zeros and then give my team a chance to win. But obviously, if it would have happened, I would have been really excited and happy. It's just one of those things, you know? I made a bad pitch to Chris, and he crushed it. So tip your hat and move on."

Even when Estrada isn't chasing history, he still isn't giving up many hits. He has allowed five hits or fewer in eight consecutive starts this season, which is a club record and something he also did during the 2015 season.

Estrada led the American League last year with a .203 opponents' batting average, and this season he once again ranks first with a mark of .167. Boston owns the best-hitting lineup in all of baseball, and in three outings against Estrada this year, they have a .197 average and 15 hits.

So how does a pitcher who tops out at 90 mph on a good day keep inducing such weak contact? Well, it's an example for every pitcher out there, because Estrada is showing how a mixture of speeds and good location are all he needs to get the job done.

"He'll rarely make a mistake over the middle of the plate in a big situation, and he's able to mix his pitches better than anybody," Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin said. "That's what's tough hitting against him. You don't know if you're getting the fastball, curveball, cutter or changeup."

Despite all of the success, Estrada still likely does not receive as much credit as he deserves. The best he could do on the open market was a two-year contract worth $26 million to re-sign with Toronto, and that deal now looks like an absolute steal by today's standards.

Estrada has surrendered three runs or fewer in all but two of his 11 starts this season. His 2.41 ERA ranks fourth in the AL, and people are no longer waiting for the wheels to fall off. They're starting to expect this type of success each time he takes the mound.

"Estrada makes it tough on you because if you wait him out, you're behind in the count," Young said. "If you're overly aggressive, you swing at his pitch. It's about just finding a way to get him over the middle of the plate. Even though he doesn't make too many mistakes, try to take advantage of the ones that he does."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for since 2011. 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.