Estrada outduels Scherzer; Blue Jays blank Nats
Righty allows no runs in 6 2/3 innings; Travis homers to fuel win
TORONTO -- The first two months of the season were not particularly kind to Marco Estrada, but it has been a completely different story in June.
Estrada recorded his third consecutive quality start by tossing 6 2/3 scoreless innings during a 2-0 victory over the Nationals on Saturday afternoon. The soft-tossing righty scattered three hits and walked just two in what likely will be considered his best start of the year while Devon Travis hit a two-run homer off Max Scherzer in the win.
At the end of May, Estrada was sitting on a 5.68 ERA and looking for answers. Since then, he has allowed three runs over his last 18 2/3 innings while striking out 19 and walking just three. It's easily his strongest stretch of the year and arguably his best since the early stages of 2017.
"We just mixed it up really well," said Estrada, whose ERA has dropped to 4.66. "Luke [Maile] called a really good game. A lot of those at-bats were brat-like, just like pesky. I'd make a good pitch with my changeup and they would foul it off, almost like they were probably sitting on it. It was tough. They have a really good lineup over there. They put up some good at-bats. I'm just glad it went the way it did."
One key to Estrada's recent turnaround has been an increased willingness to use more of his pitches. Estrada has spent the vast majority of his career as a fastball-changeup starter, but he also possesses a curveball and cutter. In recent starts he has been going to his secondary pitches on a more regular basis and that was the case against Washington with 15 curveballs out of his 109 pitches.
Estrada picked up his longest scoreless outing since Sept. 5, 2017, and the fact that it came against the team that drafted him way back in 2005 had to make it a little bit sweeter. His 109 pitches were a season high and he has won consecutive starts for the first time this season.
"It's a fastball up, changeup off the same plane," Nationals first baseman Daniel Murphy said. "Then he'll throw the changeup down and every now and then he'll skip that fastball off the same plane down as well. So the disparity between the fastball and the changeup is so much you have to kind of pick one or the other. It's tough to cover both. He threw the ball well. He mixed in some curveballs for a strike when he needed to. He kept me off-balance for sure."
Estrada did not have much margin for error with Scherzer on the mound for Washington. Scherzer, who undoubtedly will be a top contender for the National League Cy Young Award, had another brilliant outing and for the most part completely overpowered the Blue Jays lineup, but one mistake was all Toronto would need.
Travis had a pair of hits off Scherzer, including a two-run shot in the bottom of the fifth that held up for the duration of the game. For Travis it was his second home run in as many games and he now has at least one hit in five of his last six games. Veterans Curtis Granderson and Kendrys Morales had the only other two hits off Scherzer during his six innings. Scherzer struck out 10 and walked one in the quality start.
The Blue Jays are now 7-5 during their last 12 games after going 4-19 over their previous 23. Toronto also has won six consecutive home games for the first time since a seven-game streak from July 2-8, 2016. With the latest victory, the Blue Jays improved to 5-2 in Interleague games this season.
"Every single fifth day, for four years now, Marco is always ready to go," Travis said. "Huge testament to him. Struggles in this game, even to the really good ones. Marco is a really good one and he does a great job of leaving his last start behind, whether it's good or bad. He focuses on that day, every single pitch, he focuses on the glove and not on who he's facing. He's a big-game pitcher and that's a fantastic lineup over there."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Gets him looking: Estrada did not have to pitch his way out of too many difficult spots on Saturday afternoon but one of the rare signs of trouble came in the sixth. Nationals shortstop Trea Turner hit a two-out double to center, which put a runner into scoring position for just the second time. Bryce Harper stepped to the plate and even though the Blue Jays had a base open they decided to pitch to the star slugger. Estrada got ahead in the count 1-2 and later in the at-bat he struck out Harper on a borderline 89.6 mph fastball. Harper finished 0-for-4 and he has just one hit in this series.
"I try to pitch my game no matter how well, or bad, someone is playing," Estrada said. "I see the glove and try to hit it, that's really it. He's one of the best players in the game. I guess I'm glad he's struggling right now because it made it a little bit better for me. But I'm out there trying to hit the glove no matter who is up to bat."
Going deep: Travis' second home run in as many games was projected to travel 398 feet and left his bat at 100.1 mph. All four of his home runs this season have come at home and he has raised his batting average by 80 points over his last 18 games by hitting .333 (18-for-54) with a double, a triple, three homers and eight RBIs.
"I was drafted by the Tigers so my first big league camp, Scherzer was still with the Tigers," Travis said. "I got to face him a little bit on the backfield. He's a guy that when you go to sleep at night, you know you're facing Max Scherzer the next day, your heart starts to beat a little bit already. You know you're up for a big challenge. He's the best in the game and I'm just so thankful I was able to contribute today."
The Blue Jays picked up their first shutout of the season and the first since Aug. 10, 2017, vs. the Yankees. Toronto went a franchise-high 117 games between shutouts, which broke the previous longest streak from 2005-06 by 32 games.
Right-hander Sam Gaviglio (2-2, 3.66) will take the mound when the Blue Jays close out their three-game series against the Nationals on Sunday afternoon, with first pitch scheduled for 1:07 p.m. ET. Gaviglio is coming off his worst start of the season after allowing five earned runs on seven hits -- both season highs -- in just 3 1/3 innings against Tampa. Washington will counter with right-hander Tanner Roark (3-7, 3.63).