Estrada again steps up when needed most

Right-hander deploys improved changeup to help stop losing streak

Estrada again steps up when needed most

TORONTO -- Whenever the Blue Jays needed a big victory over the last couple of years, more often than not it seemed like Marco Estrada was the guy who rose to the occasion. He just did it again.

With Toronto's offense ice cold at the plate, Blue Jays starters have been afforded very little margin for error. The way Estrada pitched on Saturday afternoon it almost didn't matter, as he tossed seven scoreless innings in the Blue Jays' 2-1 victory over the Orioles.

Kendrys Morales will get most of the attention for his walk-off homer in the ninth inning but without Estrada he never would have been in that position. Inning after inning Estrada took the mound knowing any run allowed might send Toronto to its eighth consecutive loss. He didn't let it happen.

Morales' walk-off homer

"We've been needing wins," said Estrada, who scattered four hits and three walks with eight strikeouts. "Obviously we've struggled a bit, we only had one. The last three, four, games we needed a win. I'm just glad we were able to pull it off today. It was another nail-biter but we pulled [it off] and that's all that matters."

Estrada's changeup is his bread-and-butter pitch, but it let him down earlier this week at Tampa Bay. He left it up in the zone on several occasions and the Rays made him pay with three home runs en route to a loss. He vowed after that outing to work on it between starts and get the problem fixed. It appeared to work.

According to Statcast™, Estrada went to his changeup 41 times during Saturday afternoon's game. There were still times when Estrada left it higher than he wanted but the location was much better than against the Rays when he threw it 30 times in a 7-2 loss. There's still more work to be done but Estrada liked the progress he saw from one outing to the next.

"I threw more during my bullpens and felt better," Estrada said. "I've been dealing with a few things. I feel much better and I was able to finish those changeups today. I still didn't like all of them, I guess, but it's getting there."

Despite the success, Estrada's outing was not quite as smooth as the pitching line might suggest. He allowed at least one baserunner in all but two of his seven innings and three times Baltimore had a pair of runners on base. He said after the game that the Orioles really made him work, but then again, nothing has come easy for the Blue Jays lately.

Toronto was in danger of dropping eight consecutive games for the first time since May 2009; and of falling 7 1/2 games back of Baltimore for first place in the division. This win at least cuts that lead to 5 1/2 with a chance to close the gap even further in Sunday's series finale. There's no such thing as a must-win game in April but to say this team really needed a victory would be a drastic understatement.

"It all started with Marco," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "I've seen it plenty of times. You guys have all seen it many times. He can pitch some big games and he can shut down some of the better hitters in baseball in his own style. He was on today."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com 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.