Estrada pitching himself into rare company

Estrada pitching himself into rare company

PHILADELPHIA -- Marco Estrada is once again quietly exceeding expectations start after start. He has been more than good, he has been almost untouchable this season, and there are plenty of numbers to back that up.

The veteran right-hander set a Blue Jays record during Wednesday's 7-2 victory over the Phillies by allowing five hits or fewer in 10 consecutive starts. A lot of great pitchers have gone through Toronto -- Dave Stieb, Roy Halladay and Roger Clemens just to name a few -- but none of them had done that.

All of this from a guy who wasn't even a member of the rotation at the start of last year. This past offseason, Estrada signed a two-year deal on the open market, but now his name can be found alongside some of the best pitchers in baseball.

"He's a master of his craft," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He has probably the best changeup in baseball, I don't know if anybody has one better. ... He has different weapons, and without a lot of velocity, he's able to pitch up in the zone, gets fly balls, gets strikeouts up there. He can really throw anything at any time."

Estrada's opponents' batting average tells an even bigger story. The 32-year-old leads all qualified Major League starters with a .168 OBA (52-for-309), with the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw second at .170 and the Cubs' Jake Arrieta third at .178. That's some pretty good company to be a part of.

Josh Donaldson once said about Estrada that it's probably the most comfortable 0-for-4 a player can take. He meant it as a compliment. Estrada doesn't overpower anybody, he'll almost lull a hitter to sleep, but it's the deception on his changeup and variety of speeds that makes it so difficult.

"His balls-put-in-play average is ridiculous," Donaldson said. "I think that tells you how effective he is on keeping guys off-balance and keeping guys off one pitch or another. He just does a great job of pitching. He's not going to be a guy who blows you away with 95 or 96 [mph]. He's a guy who's going to pitch effectively, changes speeds in the zone, and pitches to all quadrants of the zone, as well."

Even on nights when Estrada doesn't have his best stuff, he finds a way to survive. He allowed two runs on four hits and one walk with five strikeouts against the Phillies but didn't feel comfortable for most of the night.

Estrada wasn't spotting his fastball the way he wanted to. He was occasionally spiking his changeup, and the curveball was inconsistent. But none of that seemed to matter, because he still found a way to get the job done.

"My mindset has changed," Estrada said. "I learned a lot from Mark Buehrle and even David Price when he was with us for a little bit. My mindset has changed completely, and it has helped me out tremendously.

"Days like today, when I don't have everything, it doesn't get to me. I know if I go out there and try to hit the glove with whatever I have, I'm probably going to be pretty successful."

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.