TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays offence deserves most of the credit for the team’s impressive start to the new season, but over the weekend their pitchers showed a capability to carry the load sometimes, too.
Rookie Ricky Romero delivered a third straight impressive outing with seven shutout innings while Lyle Overbay’s RBI single in the second stood as the difference in a 1-0 victory Sunday afternoon over the Oakland Athletics.
Scott Downs pitched a scoreless eighth and B.J. Ryan nailed things down in the ninth for his second save as the Blue Jays (10-4) took two-of-three from the Athletics (5-7) to match their best start since 2001.
It’s also the first time in franchise history they’ve ever won four straight series of three games or more to start a season, a streak they’ll try to extend when the Texas Rangers visit for three starting Tuesday.
“Surprised? No, not surprised. Happy? Very,” manager Cito Gaston said of his team’s play. “We’ve done things right, we’ve caught some breaks here and there, the guys have pitched well and the guys have hit well.”
Romero (2-0), the sixth overall pick in the 2005 draft only now starting to pay dividends, is emblematic of all that’s gone right so far for the Blue Jays. Coming into the spring down the depth chart, the 24-year-old lefty put his game together after a terrible first few outings in camp, won a spot in the rotation and carried that success into the season.
Like several of his teammates, he’s been far better than expected.
“Deep, deep inside me I knew what I could do this whole time,” Romero said. “This ain’t no surprise to me and I know there’s going to be bumps along the road, but I feel at this point it’s all about getting better.”
Romero allowed just four hits and two walks while striking out six before a crowd of 22,164. His key stat of the day, however, was the seven innings he pitched, helping rest a bullpen that threw 6 2-3 scoreless innings in Saturday’s 4-2, 12-inning win.
The 25-year-old lefty went eight innings in his last start, a no-decision Tuesday in Minnesota, and is showing the potential to be the innings-eater the Blue Jays rotation desperately needs behind ace Roy Halladay, especially with Jesse Litsch on the DL.
Romero and Halladay are tied for the team lead with 21 innings apiece.
“He’s certainly pitching like a No. 2 starter,” said Gaston. “It’s good to see. If we can get Jesse back, it should be good.”
The Athletics only really threatened against him once, and Romero can thank his defence for keeping it a 1-0 game. Mark Ellis started the third with a single and an out later, Ryan Sweeney ripped a double to right-centre.
Ellis, who paused briefly as he approached second, was sent home as Vernon Wells relayed the ball to Aaron Hill, who fired home to catcher Raul Chavez to nail the runner.
“We take pride in that,” said Hill. “Vernon did a great job, he knows where I’m going to be, he just gets the ball, turns around and fires it.”
The Athletics had only one runner advance beyond first base after that.
“He’s got a bright future,” A’s right-fielder Jack Cust said of Romero. “He reminds of (Johan) Santana a little bit, his body and his mannerisms, the way he throws. Santana’s got those broad shoulders like he’s got.
“He’s similar, he’s got a similar arm slot, similar delivery. He’s going to be good.”
That all made Dallas Braden (1-2) a hard-luck loser, as he allowed just one run on five hits and three walks in 7 1-3 innings. The Blue Jays run came in the second when Kevin Millar walked, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on Overbay’s RBI single.
He deserved better, but the Oakland offence is stuck in a rut right now.
“We have a lineup full of Great White sharks,” Braden said. “If they smell blood, it’s going to be on and cracking.
“We’ve just got to get that first cut.”
Romero, Downs and Ryan didn’t give them that chance.
Ryan looked solid for the second straight day and since giving up three runs in 2-3 of an inning April 11 at Cleveland, he has now pitched three scoreless frames, allowing three hits and a walk over that span.
“He’s throwing the ball good,” said Gaston. “It looks like he’s elevating the ball a little to throw some strikes instead of being so down in the strike zone.”
A better test for the entire pitching staff comes when the Rangers arrive in town Tuesday.
“The guys have done a great job,” said Hill. “We said, ‘Hey, who knows what these kids are going to do?’
“We know they have the talent and a lot of potential. So far they’re doing a great job of holding their own.”
Notes: Jays SS Marco Scutaro has reached safely in all 14 games so far this season. … LF Travis Snider and Overbay were both in the Jays starting lineup with the lefty Braden on the mound, while Adam Lind sat in favour of Kevin Millar at DH. … 3B Eric Chavez returned to the Oakland lineup after missing five games with a sore right shoulder. He jammed his surgically repaired shoulder diving back to first base on a pickoff attempt April 10 and last played April 12. … Fans booed A.J. Burnett when video highlights of the Yankees-Indians game were shown on the videoboard.