MINNEAPOLIS -- Marcus Stroman showed flashes of his former self with his first strong outing of the year, but a lack of run support meant he was still saddled with a fourth consecutive loss.
Stroman limited the Twins to a pair of runs on six hits over seven innings in a 4-0 Blue Jays loss on Wednesday afternoon at Target Field. It marked the first time this season Stroman completed at least six innings and also the first time he didn't allow at least four earned runs.
Toronto's right-hander lived up to his end of the bargain but the rest of the Blue Jays did not, as the lineup was held scoreless by rookie starter Fernando Romero, who tossed 5 2/3 innings in his Major League debut. The Blue Jays had plenty of opportunities but finished the day 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position, and they left seven men on base.
"I feel like I've been making adjustments and getting back to myself," Stroman said. "I'm starting to really feel good. I kind of hit on a new pitch today and I think it was huge in my ability to stay down in the zone."
The new pitch that Stroman referred to was a cut fastball, which is something he hasn't really used since 2015-16. According to Statcast™, Stroman threw the pitch 18.3 percent of the time in 2016 but the usage dropped to 4.7 last year. Stroman estimated that he went to the pitch 20-25 times during the series finale against the Twins as part of his adjustment between outings.
"It's between my slider and my curve, and it's something that allows me to get extension and allows me to put my sinker in a better spot," Stroman said. "I'm excited. … It helped balance everything out and helped me get back down in the zone. It's a pitch that I threw a lot in 2015. I'm always tinkering and changing and doing whatever I can to help. It's a pitch I'll start to use effectively going forward."
Stroman's outing was a step in the right direction but his performance was not quite as crisp as the box score would lead most people to believe. He gave up a lot of hard contact early and while he allowed one home run -- a solo shot to Eddie Rosario in the second -- it could have been much worse. James Dozier led off the bottom of the first with a deep flyout that was projected to travel 391 feet, and in the second, Eduardo Escobar hit one 394 feet. Both balls likely would have left Rogers Centre but went down as outs at Target Field.
The 27-year-old Stroman entered the game with an 8.88 ERA and by the time he walked off the field at the end of the seventh it had dropped to 7.52. He struck out five and walked just one, which is another sign that he might be rounding into form. Stroman walked 14 batters over his first 20 innings of the season but has issued just two over his last 12 1/3 innings. The product of Duke University threw 68 of his 99 pitches for strikes.
"He made a good adjustment after the first inning," Blue Jays bench coach DeMarlo Hale said. "I thought he got into the strike zone, had some movement, and mixed in his pitches pretty well."
Toronto's lineup was held in check much of the afternoon by Romero, who walked three but allowed just four hits while striking out five. Minnesota's bullpen took it the rest of the way as the Blue Jays were shut out for the first time this season. One of the only bright spots on offense was Kevin Pillar, who extended his hitting streak to seven games with a two-hit afternoon. The 29-year-old is now batting .324 in 30 games this season.
"His ball was moving all over the place," Pillar said. "He was poised out there. I don't want to say he was effectively wild, because he threw a lot of strikes, but his ball was moving all over the place. Sometimes he had cuts, sometimes he had runs, sometimes he threw a straight one."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Strike 'em out, throw 'em out: In the top of the third inning, the Blue Jays had a runner on first and one out when Teoscar Hernandez attempted to check his swing on a full count but instead was rung up by home-plate umpire Dan Bellino. Aledmys Diaz was running on the play and thought it was ball four, so he slowed down and almost came to a full stop between first and second. The Twins got the strikeout and then got the easy out at second when a throw was made and a tag was applied. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons took issue with the lack of visible and verbal cues from the umpire on the call and was then promptly ejected from the game. It was Gibbons' first ejection of the season and the 43rd of his career.
Missed opportunities: The Blue Jays put multiple runners on base during the second, fourth and fifth innings vs. Romero, but came up empty each time. In the second, Kendrys Morales struck out and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. grounded out to end the threat. In the fourth, Russell Martin grounded out and Morales struck out yet again to end the inning. Finally, in the fifth, Hernandez hit into an inning-ending double play.
"A good arm, when you're talking about rushing it up there at 94-97 mph," Hale said of Romero. "A pretty good changeup. [Curtis] Granderson's first at-bat, he showed the changeup and the slider. You're talking about a young guy with a three-pitch mix, with a power arm, that's what you want to see."
The Blue Jays have outscored their opponents on the road, 63-60, this season, but they have been out-hit, 129-102, over that same span.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Pillar made another of his trademark grabs in the bottom of the seventh as he took extra bases away from Dozier. Minnesota's second baseman hit a sharp liner to left-center field but Pillar came across to make the diving play and managed to hang onto the ball at the same time. That ended the inning and closed the book on Stroman's pitching line.
Toronto's center fielder appeared to jam his right wrist or hand while making the diving play. Hale said he would be re-evaluated before Toronto's doubleheader in Cleveland on Thursday, but he's not expected to miss any time.
"I've seen that before with Dozier up and sometimes it's like second nature," Pillar said. "I felt like I knew where he was going to hit it before he hit it. I was happy to make a play. … I landed a little funny with my glove but I made sure everything was still intact."
The Blue Jays will travel to Cleveland for a make-up doubleheader against the Indians on Thursday afternoon. Veteran lefty Jaime Garcia (2-2, 5.40) will start Game 1 and right-hander Joe Biagini will be recalled from Triple-A Buffalo for Game 2. Cleveland is scheduled to go with right-hander Carlos Carrasco (4-1, 3.08) in Game 1 and righty Adam Plutko in Game 2. The first game is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. ET and Game 2 will follow shortly after its conclusion.