ANAHEIM -- The Blue Jays opened the year with a lot of uncertainty in their starting rotation, but as the season reached its one-month mark on Saturday it has emerged as an early strength.
Toronto began the season with No. 5 starter Dustin McGowan on the disabled list and with presumed No. 3 Brett Cecil in the Minor Leagues. That created an opening for Kyle Drabek and rookie Drew Hutchison, and the group as a whole has exceeded expectations.
Blue Jays starters entered play on Saturday ranked second in the American League in both ERA (3.30) and innings pitched (168 1/3). It has been a surprise to most people but not necessarily manager John Farrell.
"We spoke in Spring Training and talked about the potential. The talent was clearly there, and [we had] guys we felt confident in, even though they were untested," Farrell said. "At the time we were hopeful that through those challenges [in 2011] they learned some things about themselves along the way. And through the first 27 games, the starting rotation has not only been consistent, but you could point to it as being one of the strengths of this team so far."
In the first two games against the Angels, Toronto received shutouts from both Brandon Morrow and Henderson Alvarez. It marked the first time that the Blue Jays had experienced that type of success in back-to-back games since 1993, when Jack Morris and Al Leiter accomplished the feat for a team that eventually went on to win the World Series.
Both starters managed to go the distance in efficient fashion as Morrow required just 102 pitches and Alvarez only 97. The key to the overall success has been an ability to consistently throw strikes early in the count, which helped take advantage of an Angels team that isn't exactly known for its patience at the plate.
"It's rare to be on the road and throw back-to-back shutouts, but you can't take anything away from what those guys have done," Farrell said. "Those weren't because of some fluke things that didn't go their way. We played some very good defense behind both Brandon and Henderson, but they pitched exceptionally well.
"They threw a lot of first-pitch strikes, they were down in the strike zone for the most part, extremely efficient. Against an aggressive swinging club and they forced the hand, they threw strikes early in the count and by doing that they were able to get through nine innings efficiently."