Ray’s growing reliability a significant development for Blue Jays

Ray’s growing reliability a significant development for Blue Jays thumbnail

TORONTO – Six-inning starts are a gift for the Toronto Blue Jays, especially given their constant roster shuffling to ensure the bullpen is stocked with enough fresh arms to get through the night. Jeremy Beasley is the latest reliever spun out of the whirlpool, with top prospect Nate Pearson demoted to triple-A Buffalo to get himself right.

More on that later.

So when Robbie Ray delivered six frames for the fourth straight start – half of his team’s eight such outings through 34 games – he not only kept the game in check for the offence to rally late, but also helped extend manager Charlie Montoyo’s relief options later in the series.

Tidy piece of work then, from the lefty, who was out of the game by the time the Blue Jays put up an opportunistic three-run eighth in a 5-3 victory Tuesday night over Atlanta. Jonathan Davis started the decisive rally with a double, A.J. Minter’s indecision after fielding Marcus Semien’s weak comebacker put a second man on, Bo Bichette followed with a base hit to load the bases and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. ripped a single to tie things up.

Teoscar Hernandez followed with a grounder to Freddie Freeman, who didn’t have enough time to make a throw home and then couldn’t get an out at first base leading to a single, while Cavan Biggio’s bases-loaded walk added some insurance.

Tyler Chatwood then ripped through the top of the Atlanta lineup in the bottom of the frame before Canadian Jordan Romano had to grind through a nervous ninth, stranding two runners when Ehire Adrianza flew out to end it.

That chain of events salvaged the latest strong outing from Ray, who struck out 10 in another overpowering outing but surrendered Marcell Ozuna’s go-ahead solo shot in the sixth inning.

Ray also gave up an RBI single to Ozzie Albies in the first and a solo shot to Ronald Acuna Jr. in the third that put Atlanta up 2-0, but controlled a potent lineup with both his curveball (seven whiffs) and slider (five whiffs) complementing a fastball (five whiffs) sitting 94.8 m.p.h.

His growing reliability is an increasingly significant development as the Blue Jays have been forced to make things up on the wing elsewhere on the pitching staff. There’s no better example of that than Pearson, who was rushed up to the majors to start Sunday after just one start with triple-A Buffalo, struggled badly, and was sent back down Tuesday.

The plan had been for Pearson to get his feet solidly beneath him with the Bisons, but “his spot was the one we needed that day, our bullpen was thin and we needed him and (Anthony) Kay to cover some innings,” said Montoyo.

“The main reason we sent (Pearson) down is because we want him to get more consistency coming off his injury,” the manager continued. “He made some strides in his first triple-A outing but he’s still got some work to do. … He’ll be all right. He just needs to pitch more in the minor-leagues and he’ll be all right.”

All fair enough, except that the Blue Jays, ideally, wouldn’t have needed to put Pearson in that spot in the first place if outings like the ones Ray gave them Tuesday weren’t so few and far between.

Ace Hyun-Jin Ryu, just back from the injured list, has gone at least six innings twice in his six outings while Steven Matz has done it twice in seven turns. With Ryu set to start Wednesday followed by Ross Stripling on Thursday, the Blue Jays have a chance to emerge from this series with their bullpen in decent shape for the weekend, when Kay is for now set to make one of the starts.

All of that puts the Blue Jays in position to leverage their offence, which can strike quickly and strongly. Atlanta starter Bryse Wilson kept them under wraps for five innings before Semien singled in the sixth and scored an out later when Guerrero hammered his eighth homer, an opposite field drive over the wall in right-centre.

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