Late rally gives Blue Jays series-opening win
Encarnacion's RBI double makes the difference after Rogers shines
ARLINGTON -- The sample size is still incredibly small, but Esmil Rogers is starting to prove that he might have what it takes to become a reliable member of the rotation.
If that ends up being the case, a lot of his success likely will be tied to the addition of a sinker to his repertoire. He recently added the two-seamer, and the results have been positive, and almost instantaneous.
Rogers went to his sinker early and often against Texas on Thursday night en route to seven strong innings of work, then Edwin Encarnacion's late two-run double gave the Blue Jays a 3-1 win at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
"He used to only throw four-seamers, and fastballs weren't something you were too worried about, because it was pretty straight," catcher J.P. Arencibia said. "Since he has been able to add a little bit of movement on it, he has been able to get guys off the heater, and he has really good breaking stuff, too."
It remains to be seen how Rogers will hold up when the league adjusts to his new style of pitching, but the early results are at least encouraging. The sinker can be used in combination with his slider, curveball and occasional changeup to continuously give hitters a different look at the plate.
During Rogers' previous start, against the Rangers on June 7, he threw a lot of sliders. But when tasked with facing the same team in consecutive outings, he went for a completely different look, going almost exclusively with fastballs and curveballs while occasionally mixing in a changeup.
The 27-year-old recorded just one strikeout but otherwise dominated a powerful Rangers lineup en route to his second win of the season. He allowed just five hits and came within one out of matching his career high in innings pitched.
"I tried to use my sinker more, and I just threw inside, threw everywhere, to get the ground ball," said Rogers, who got 11 of his outs on the ground. "That's why I didn't get too many punchouts tonight, but I'm not going to think about that. I'm just thinking about getting the ground ball."
Rogers' only real mistake came in the second inning, when he surrendered a solo shot to Nelson Cruz. It came on a 3-2 count, and Cruz went the opposite way with a high fastball on the outer half of the plate.
That didn't seem to faze Rogers at all, though, as he went on to face two batters over the minimum through his next 5 2/3 innings. He needed just 93 pitches to get through his seven innings and continues to build his arm strength after opening the season in the bullpen.
Rogers has now allowed two earned runs over his 14 1/3 innings as a starter. He has surrendered just 11 hits and four walks over that span, and -- at least for the time being -- is firmly entrenched in the rotation while right-hander Brandon Morrow remains on the disabled list with a sore right forearm.
"I think he located pretty well," Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "He did that in Toronto, and he did that again [tonight]. As bad as it sounds, you hate it as a hitter. The guy throws a pretty good sinker, slider and curveball. He threw me five or six pitches where the pitches were sometimes tough to hit."
Rangers starter Yu Darvish matched Rogers pitch for pitch and allowed just one run while striking out nine over his seven innings. It appeared as though that would be enough to at least stick Rogers with a no-decision, but that changed in the top of the eighth once the Texas ace had been removed from the game.
Emilio Bonifacio reached base to lead off the inning on an error by the normally surehanded Beltre at third. Bonifacio was eventually bunted to second, and he reached third on a groundout by Melky Cabrera.
Jose Bautista then walked to put runners on the corners with two outs for Encarnacion, who promptly came through with a first-pitch double to the gap in left-center off reliever Tanner Scheppers. Two runs scored on the 200th double of Encarnacion's career, which upped his number of RBIs on the season to 55.
"I was just looking for my pitch, a fastball," Encarnacion said. "He's a great pitcher, so I was looking for something in the strike zone, and I was aggressive right from the beginning."
The Blue Jays have now won six of their past nine contests. It's also the fifth time in those nine games that the outcome has been decided by two runs or fewer as the club continues to play in a lot of tight ballgames -- 36 of their 64 games this year fall into that category.