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Making debut, Koehler impresses with hook

Recently acquired pitcher keeps Rays close, gets tough loss
MLB.com

ST. PETERSBURG -- In less than 24 hours, the Blue Jays went from hitting six home runs to being held off the scoreboard, from slugfest to slogfest in a 2-0 loss to the Rays on Thursday. But recently acquired pitcher Tom Koehler held the Rays close in a strong debut for his new team.

Manager John Gibbons said a day earlier that he did not know what to expect from Koehler and was generally unfamiliar with the career Marlin. The right-hander certainly impressed his new skipper with an outing of five innings, one run and a season-high-tying seven strikeouts. It was his best start in terms of run prevention since April 6, though he took the loss for the first time in his career when allowing one run.

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ST. PETERSBURG -- In less than 24 hours, the Blue Jays went from hitting six home runs to being held off the scoreboard, from slugfest to slogfest in a 2-0 loss to the Rays on Thursday. But recently acquired pitcher Tom Koehler held the Rays close in a strong debut for his new team.

Manager John Gibbons said a day earlier that he did not know what to expect from Koehler and was generally unfamiliar with the career Marlin. The right-hander certainly impressed his new skipper with an outing of five innings, one run and a season-high-tying seven strikeouts. It was his best start in terms of run prevention since April 6, though he took the loss for the first time in his career when allowing one run.

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"He attacks, he's got a real nice curveball," Gibbons said. "Real nice curveball. He showed us a lot today."

Video: TOR@TB: Koehler whiffs Kiermaier for first Blue Jay K

Koehler quickly realized his curveball was his best weapon Thursday and decided to throw it 25 times out of his 98 offerings (25.5 percent). While he normally throws his slider more than the hook, at 22.7 percent frequency, he threw the slider just four times, according to Baseball Savant.

"A lot of times, we kind of split the duties between the curveball and the slider, but today the curveball was pretty sharp," Koehler said. "[Catcher Miguel Montero] did a great job just sticking with it, and I don't think I shook him all day."

Trust in his catcher and comfort working with his pitches became important as Koehler entered a couple treacherous situations. He left runners on second and third after allowing one run to score in the second inning, and stranded the bases loaded in the fifth.

"I think early in the game I had a lot of adrenaline," Koehler said. "It had been a while since I'd pitched, and pitching for the first time for a new team, there's definitely some excitement. I was able to settle down later and get some quick outs as the game went on."

Video: TOR@TB: Koehler ends the bases-loaded jam

All in all, Koehler stranded 88.9 percent of his baserunners Thursday. That's significant because this season he's left just 63.8 percent of runners on base, which is in the bottom 20 of 257 pitchers with 50 innings pitched.

Koehler was struggling when Miami traded him, as he was on the lower end of the spectrum in categories like ERA, WHIP and home runs allowed per nine innings. Likely for a combination of these reasons and the fact that Koehler, Nick Tepesch and Joe Biagini are all vying for a spot in the Blue Jays rotation, Gibbons would not commit to whether his newest pitcher will make another start.

When Koehler spoke Wednesday, he said he understood his role was up in the air for now and is willing to pitch from whichever role the Blue Jays prefer. He's just excited to be representing a team, city and country.

"I'm comfortable starting, I'm comfortable doing anything," Koehler said. "But as far as pitch counts and things like that go, yeah, I'm lined up and ready to [start]."

Connor Mount is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Petersburg who covered the Blue Jays on Thursday.

Toronto Blue Jays, Tom Koehler